What happened after the tragedy is a blot on India’s government and judiciary.
A few days after the leak, Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide USA, was
arrested, only to be bailed out within hours.
The perpetrator of the mass tragedy in Bhopal was flown in a state government
plane to the national capital and soon left India, never to come back.
Officially he absconded, but lives on Long Island in New York. The U.S.
government has refused a 2004 extradition request.
In 1989, the Supreme Court of India dropped criminal proceedings in the case and
approved a settlement between the government and Union Carbide, under which the
company agreed to pay $470 million as compensation.
After much outrage, the criminal cases were reopened in 1991 against a handful
of company executives. But the Indian government remained callously indifferent.
In fact, in 1996 charges were diluted by the Indian supreme court from culpable homicide not amounting to
murder, which can bring up to 10 years in prison, to death due to negligence,
which allows up to two years of prison and a fine.
After the settlement, the government realized that the number of victims was
five times more than the initial estimate, leaving the average compensation for
victims at about $264 for each.
Is an Indian life worth $264? Are Indian lives expendable? Compare this with the
billions in compensation sought from BP for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill or with
the $7 billion in compensation for less than 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001
terrorist attacks in the United States.
Rehabilitation measures for those who survived have been marred by a lack of
coordination and planning. A majority of the affected households live in penury.
The response of the international media is also disappointing.
While the Indian government has been censured for its approach, the global media
seems to have, in a sense, absolved Anderson and UCC.