Sandhya wrote a post last year related to Bhopal last year, so perhaps it isn’t necessary to go through the particulars of a case that most people know about. Still, it seems important to acknowledge that today is 25 years to the day since the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal broke down, resulting in the release of massive amounts of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, which killed about 30,000 people and injured thousands more (more than 500,000 people claimed damages). For those unfamiliar with the story, here is a detailed chronology of events.
As many people are aware, the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was an American company. The plant was technically operated by its subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), which was 51% owned by UCC at the time of the disaster.
In one of the strangest, and most fateful, twists in the legal history of the Bhopal disaster, a U.S. District Court decided in May, 1986 that UCIL was an Indian company (“a separate entity, owned, managed and operated exclusively by Indian citizens in India”), and therefore any litigation regarding the Bhopal disaster should be done in India. The decision by the District Court was upheld on Appeal.
The transfer of legal authority — in effect, the U.S. justice system saying, “hey, this is not an American company, so it’s not our problem” — significantly weakened the damages that were likely to be rewarded. Indeed, the final damages, reached in an out of court settlement, was only $470 million. When all was said and done, that came out to $2,200 for each person killed, and about $500 for each person injured. Neither UCIL nor UCC ever had to acknowledge culpability, or take responsibility for cleaning up the still polluted site of the Union Carbide Plant. A Dow Chemicals executive later stated that the amount “is plenty good for an Indian.” Even with the conversion to Rupees, I can’t see how $500 is a significant help for a person who may be living with a debilitating injury, with children who are born, even years later, with serious congenital birth defects associated with (still) poisoned groundwater. It’s not “plenty good”; it’s laughable.
A commenter on Sandhya’s earlier thread mentioned the Sambhavna Clinic, which was built specifically to care for victims of the disaster. There is a “donate here” button; if you have a couple of bucks to spare, you might use it.
Finally, Suketu Mehta has a column up in the New York Times today. He does lament that Dow Chemicals hasn’t done anything to help clean up the site. But what he doesn’t mention is that the reason for that is that the U.S. justice system washed its hands of the mess in 1986, and the Indian Government, which is the only entity that today has any legal responsibility to do anything for anyone in Bhopal, meekly accepted it.
What are your thoughts today? Have you read anything insightful or enlightening with regards to the Bhopal disaster in recent days?