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Bhopal: Justice Buried

By Devinder Sharma

11 June, 2010
Ground Reality

Everyone uses the China card when talking about growth. But when it comes to governance, no one in India ever uses the Chinese examples. I am talking about the toxic milk scandal that killed six babies and 300,000 fell ill after drinking Melamine tainted milk in early 2009.

For the death of six babies, and another 300,000 who fell ill, China executed two top officials and one of China’s top dairy company bosses spends the rest of her life in jail after she accepted her responsibility. Death penalty for the death of six babies and thousands who got ill after drinking infant milk powder that was deliberately tainted with an industrial chemical is a classic example of justice delivered.

Why can't we make the seven accused (the eight accused had died last year) in Bhopal gas tragedy to spend the rest of their life behind bars?

In India, a quarter of century after the worst industrial disaster in history, a Bhopal district court sentenced seven people, including business leader Keshub Mahindra, to two years in jail and a fine of Rs 1 lakh each. They were later released on bail. On top of it, a 'former Chief Justice of India Justice A M Ahmadi, who delivered the judgement on Sept 13, 1996, diluting charges in the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, insulted the dead by likening the disaster to a car accident'.

"We all owe cars. If my driver is involved in a fatal accident I don't become liable under Section 304 (Part II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder)." Mr Ahmadi told a TV channel while justifying his decision to dilute the charges against Union Carbide officials (Economic Times, June 9, 2010). Even the corporate mouthpiece, The Economic Times has in a curt headline, said: "Mr Ahmadi, Warren Anderson had removed car's brake."

If I were to comment on this, the Supreme Court will haul me up for contempt. But how can the Supreme Court be quiet when the Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily himself says: "This is one such case where justice is delayed and practically denied. I would like to say justice is buried," (Economic Times, June 8, 2010). If this is true, we are still awaiting to hear what the Chief Justice of India, Justice S M Kapadia, has to say. If the Civil Aviation Minister can offer to resign taking moral responsibility for an aircraft accident, I wonder why shouldn't the Law Minister accept moral responsibility for 'justice buried'.

The newspapers today have prominently displayed US President Obama's remarks yesterday -- he told NBC that he was talking to experts to know "whose ass to kick" for 11 deaths in BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We all know that the US is historically known to be always playing a double game -- we know what happened in Iraq, for instance -- but can't we even figure out whose ass to be kicked for the the death of over 15,000 people in the gas tragedy? Why is that we are hoping to get justice from the US (if it all agrees to repatriate Warren Anderson) while we are for one reason or the other refraining to kick the butt of those who were involved in diluting and delaying justice in India?

1. Arjun Singh, the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, had acknowledged that he received "a call" that made him release Warren Anderson. If you have been following the media reports yesterday, Law Minister Veerappa Moily has refuted the charges being made by a former director of Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) saying that an investigating officer has tremendous powers and he can simply withstand any kind of pressure. In fact, he goes a step ahead and holds the former CBI officer responsible for 'culpable homicide."

2. Mr Moily, I thought the Chief Minister had still more powers than a CBI officer. He could have easily refused to accept 'orders' from the top. How come Mr Arjun Singh is not responsible for 'culpable homicide'? Why is he not being booked for being a party to gross injustice?

3. The Hindustan Times (June 9, 2010) says: "A year after the Bhopal disaster, the Union government introduced the Bhopal Claims Processing Act, 1985, taking away the victims legal right to demand compensation from Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), on the ground that the underprivileged victims would not be able to take on a big company." Instead the centre argued, it would execute their legal rights as their 'sole guardian'.

4. But now, the victims feel betrayed. Mr Moily needs to explain under whose directions this dilution of the legal provisions were made. Obviously it cannot be the handiwork of a joint secretary till he receives 'oders' from the top. And who is this 'top'?

5. The answer is perhaps provided by the Convener of Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan Abdul Jabbar, who has been quoted as saying: "it began with Warren Anderson being escorted out of Bhopal on a State plane. Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi even apologised to Anderson for his temporary detention in Bhopal." (Indian Express, June 9, 2010).

It is time to kick the butt of our own people involved in this great cover-up. It is Indians who have failed India.