Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bhopal (E@L Preeshent Again)

In commenting on someone's Facebook link to article in MotherJones about the worldwide implications of the BP oil fiasco on June 4, E@L made the following provocative statement, which is course provoked no-one into any further comments:

I remember the days in Bhopal where widows were at first given about $8 per month compensation. Out of the $430 million awarded, very little actually went out and now about $500 million remains.. Huh? And Dow say they are not responsible for UC.

Whereas here, BP say Halliburton is responsible. I am concerned about the financial disparity of the compensation between some oily pelicans disturbing sun-bathing locals on the beach and between 4000 and 15000 people being killed in an explosion of toxic chemicals and the toxic contamination continuing.

And just a few days later, June 7th, news reports came though on the conviction (finally) of someone over the immense tragedy. Token sentences of two years were given to eight Indian executives of Union Carbide, 26 years after the release of the toxic gases killed thousands, painfully. Only two years? And no doubt, knowing the shambles that is the Indian legal system, appeals and counter appeals will continue till the next doomsday, or at least until the 70 years olds die.

Two years is the maximum as the charges were down-graded from "culpable homicide" to "negligence."

Sigh. Check the Wikipedia entry on this bloody criminal disaster...

Dow, which bought Union Carbide say that it has no responsibilty as it was an Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide that "controlled" the plant.



dibabear said...

You need to read your own links there E@L. The Bhopal plant was 49.8% owned by the Indian and state governments. And that the settlement money hasn't fully been paid out is in India's hands. They are the ones screwing their own people.

If I were judge I'd say that 70% of the fault lay with UCIL's Indian management and 30% with UC's oversight failure. It was the local management that cut corners, insisted on "Indianisation" that ended up using shoddy materials and generally mismanaged the operation. UC, and more specifically their CEO, is a convenient deep pocketed target but the root of the problem lay in the way the plant was built and operated in India by Indians.

That the criminal verdicts are so light is, indeed, a crime. But I don't see where chasing Dow for more cash while India (minority investor) does nothing makes sense either. But then I don't think Germany should continue to pay Israel for what it did to the Jews 70 years ago. Call me old fashioned.

expat@large said...

What? Read my own links? Next you'll be expecting me to tell the truth about my action-adventures (or lack thereof lately) in Asia!


I think the 50.2% investor has to pay for, if nothing else, its lack of oversight and failure to provide due diligence! It's called 'duty of care' in Medicine. The nurse or the Doc fucks up, the hospital takes it on the chin. Mostly. Look what happens in Japan every time something goes wrong; the PM commits public sudoku, I mean seppuku. (Not this latest time though, for a change, it WAS his error.)

That's what pisses me off, that Dow took over UC but conveniently, not its responsibilities. Look at the plant now, still rusting away leaching toxic chemicals into the water supply. Dow has a moral duty IMHO. Just as my son will have to pay off my debts... (Debts? he asks.)

And India pay? Ha? I wouldn't expect the Indian government, indeed any division of Indian politics and certainly not industry, from the bottom up, to be able to scratch its own arse without 50,000 forms in triplicate, and a million bucks of baksheesh, (or the possibility of losing a chance to make money - at least not SPEND money - to the detriment of the poor.)

As Arundhati Roy points out, democracy is just a convenient way to hide genocide and responsibility and accountability are rhetorical devices to mask corruption in that great powerhouse of incredible and intractable poverty, India. Well she said something along those lines.

So sad...


Germans? I have a German friend who is only 40 or so, not even of the "guilty" generation, who cringes and feels terrible anytime WWII is brought up. A real case of 'don't mention the war.' So some Germans would disagree with you about the need for reparation and that the expiation of guilt is already complete.

And I suppose you don't believe white Australian (terra nullius? yeah, right) usurpers should have apologized or make reparations to the indigenous peoples for the continued attempted genocide (real and cultural) of 222 to 30 odd years ago?


OK I've stretched that as far as I can from India without the strings popping!

But, in the vein of what you say, certainly it is the Indian courts which have held up the money UC did pay in compensation. Of the victims, only 40% of claimants or so got anything - and what they received was a pittance.

That's why with investment etc, the there is now a $500million pool that has not been allocated. You don't think it is someone's interest (and religious beliefs) to not let that money go to Dalits and slum-dwellers?


Not sure if I've got myself out of that one, but I've tried.

dibabear said...

:-) No need to "get yourself out" of anything.

Here's the rub with Bhopal, there's more than enough blame to go around. That 49.8% minority partner is just as responsible as the 50.2% that UC owned however. Laying the entire thing on UC's doorstep just because they have (or had) deep pockets is a bit disingenuous. Not sure how I feel about Dow (I mean beyond my usual contempt) since they bought UC knowing that the cloud of Bhopal was still hanging over them (figuratively speaking). As for UC, they most certainly could've taken the easy way out and declared bankruptcy to avoid paying anything. $485 million in 1985 dollars is probably close to $2 billion today and, had it been properly distributed, would've helped compensate the victims (as much as any money makes up for anything so heinous). On top of that UC did build and fund a vocational school to help educate and, apparently, the Indians leveled it. And then there's the specialty clinic UC built in Bhopal as well. That that isn't working well isn't UC's fault, its the locals who have squandered that bit of help. Not sure what else UC could do given that 75% of anything they do is squandered by those 75000 layers of paperwork and bureaucracy.

I firmly believe in Bruce's rule number 2 as far as Australia's indigenous populace goes.

I do think there is a limit to expecting reparations to infinity. My gauge is, when your military is strong enough to attack ships in international waters and dispossess part of your populace based on ethnicity that the bill is fully paid. So if/when the Abbos start attacking Aussie shipping, yeah I'd say they've gotten enough reparations.

I have a couple of Roy's books on my reading table as I'm very interested in what she has to say. I work with our Indian colleagues day in and day out and the sheer psychosis of that business culture still gives me headaches three years on. I also have "Black Box of Bhopal", mentioned in the Wikipedia article on my "to read" pile too. I really need to read faster.

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