New Delhi, June 17 (Calcutta Tube) A group of activists said Thursday that Union Carbide knew about safety lapses in its Indian plant in Bhopal even before the gas tragedy and demanded that the guilty be brought to book.
The activists met Law and Justice Minister M. Veerappa Moily and submitted a memorandum asking the government to establish charges against Union Carbide and its then chairman Warren Anderson.
The memorandum also sought medical care and additional compensation for the thousands of victims who struggle to live even a quarter century after the December 1984 disaster.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed instantly when tonnes of poisonous gas leaked from the Carbide plant in Bhopal on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984. And since then, many thousands have died while many became vegetables.
The issue has taken the centrestage after a Bhopal court sentenced June 7 seven former Indian officials of Carbide to two years imprisonment and quickly gave them bail, triggering outrage.
Activists from Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Samiti and Delhi Science Forum want the government to re-look into issues that they say remain unsolved all these years.
‘The charges against Union Carbide were diluted by Justice (A.M.) Ahmadi stating they did not have prior intimation of the event. This in itself is false as the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) factory was functioning below standard in full knowledge of the its parent organisation Union Carbide (UC),’ N.D. Jaiprakash of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti said.
On Sep 13, 1996, a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Ahmadi and S.B. Majumdar ruled that evidence provided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the accused in the gas tragedy was sufficient only to try them under Section 304-A (death due to negligence).
The chargesheet filed by CBI had framed them under Section 304-II, which amounts to culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which comes with a 10-year jail term.
‘It is again noteworthy that Justice Ahmadi got life-long chairmanship of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, built from money provided by Union Carbide on the Supreme Court’s orders after diluting the charge,’ Jaiprakash said.
Quoting various reports, the activists said the UCIL factory functioned below standard and this was known to the Union Carbide main office in the US.
‘The safety standards were nothing in comparison to what was in the Union Carbide factory in Virginia. Even the refrigeration system in the Bhopal plant was switched off six months prior to the incident to save money,’ he said.
‘Warren Woomer (works manager UCIL) signed the order for switching off the refrigeration plant, which was mandatory according to Union Carbide’s own directives.
‘When the compensation was settled, the government showed the number of deaths around 3,000 and those exposed to the gas were numbered around 120,000.
‘Compensation was given for this number and later distributed in over 500,000 people. The victims (were) not even compensated, leave alone (given) justice,’ he said.
The activists asked the Group of Ministers formed to study the Bhopal disaster to address long-pending issues such as proper compensation for the victims and giving medical facilities to those still suffering from ailments.
‘The gas victims registered over two million visits in hospitals last year. They dont even have a patient card and are treated like any other patient,’ said Raghunandan from Delhi Science Forum, which was one of the first to bring a report on the disaster.
‘The GoM should keep its perspective wide and look at solving the problems that still persist,’ he said.
The activists added that the biggest concern was that no action has been taken so far to avoid repetition of such incidents in future.
‘We have receded in relation to safety measures. The government is now trying to dilute hazardous material regulations to import scraps. Even the Nuclear Bill is a compromise with safety,’ Raghunandan added.