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Setting a new agenda for Bhopal

June 16, 2010 21:13 IST
A nation angered may spur the the Bhopal gas victims in their seemingly endless battle to get justce, writes Sheela Bhatt.

The victims of Bhopal, empowered by the new-found interest of the country in the gas leak disaster, wants the government of India to initiate necessary legal procedure to demand that Central Bureau of Investigation officials visit Union Carbide's American plant, "to carry out investigations at the then Union Carbide Corporation's Institute Plant (West Virginia, USA) and collect relevant documents to verify whether or not UCC had adopted dual safety standards while installing safety systems in the MIC (methyl isocyanate, the lethal gas that leaked) unit at UCC's Bhopal plant."

They also want government to execute the old non-bailable warrant against then UCC, US CEO Warren Anderson issued by the chief judicial magistrate, Bhopal, on March 27, 1992.

The Bhopal victims want that government to at least ensure that Anderson's counsel appears on his behalf to depose before the court in the case.

In another demand, they want Dow Chemical Company, USA, which took over Union Carbide Corporation, USA, to appear in Indian court. One of the most important demands is to ensure that government of Madhya Pradesh presses New Delhi to ask Dow to clean up the contaminated soil and ground water in and around the UCIL plant at Bhopal.

The petition will be made to insist to the government of India, 'to ensure that Dow provides necessary compensation to all those victims affected by drinking contaminated ground water from in and around the Bhopal plant site'.  

Social activists fighting the case of the Bhopal gas victims are now seizing the opportunity created by the forming of the Group of Ministers by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to look into issues related to the Bhopal gas leak case following the June 7 judgement that has shaken the country.

The forming of the GoM activated a chain of events in Bhopal.

N D Jayaprakash of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, Satinath Sarangi and Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action and Abdul Jabbar Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan have relentlessly fought for the victims. Now, these leaders with tremendous experience are trying to set the agenda for the victims before it gets hijacked by the vested interests, who have delayed and denied justice in the case for 26 years.

The Bhopal victims are planning to raise many issues before Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, a member of the GOM.

Another important matter needing urgent attention is the medical care for the victims and the sluggish management at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, setup to help victims.

The Bhopal gas victims also want the government to appeal against the June 7 judgment, which awarded just two years imprisonment to seven Indian officers of UC, India. They want the trial to be fast-tracked.

There is also a demand to file a curative oetition in the Supreme Court against the review order of the apex court dated March 10, 1997. That order diluted the charges of culpable homicide against the UC officials. The charges were diluted by a bench headed by former Chief Justice of India A M Ahmadi in 1996. A review petition filed by two organisations working for the victims was dismissed in 1997. The judges gave no reason for doing so. Now the victims want to reopen the case.

The Indian government and Union Carbide had struck an out-of-court deal and compensation of $470 million (about Rs 705 crore at the ten exchange rates) was paid by Union Carbide. Interestingly, the money was received in dollars and disbursed in rupees over time. The money deposited with Reserve Bank of India could not be distributed to the victims in time. The differences due to the fluctuation in exchange rate of dollar was not passed on to Bhopal victims by the government. Now, a petition is to be sent to Moily demanding that money.

In the long list of injustices in Bhopal, one of the most tragic is about the 10,000 plus deaths of people who died after 1997. The victims are demanding that the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers, through the office of the welfare commissioner, reopens the registration of death claims of gas victims who died after 1997.  After 1997, registration of disaster-related death claims was stopped.

Actually, this is the disputed issue and causing heartburns to hundreds of families. The victims want the government, 'to review and re-evaluate about 17,000 rejected death claims.' (The authorities have rejected about 80 percent of the total claims filed until 1997).

To streamline the issues and manage the tragedy even so late the victims are asking government to immediately set up an empowered commission on Bhopal which must have representatives of victim organisations.

The commission should deal with, 'the long term relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the Bhopal gas leak disaster, including medical care, research, environmental cleanup."  

In day or two, the Bhopal victims will put up their demands to Moily.

The GoM on Bhopal is likely to meet on June 18, under the leadership of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. The compact list of demands stated above should help Chidambaram decide from where to restart the procedure to bring justice to the victims.

Sheela Bhatt