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Bhopal Gas Tragedy verdict- Too Little and Too Late

Posted on June 9, 2010 in Society

Tania Goklany:

The world famous incident of Bhopal Gas Tragedy is an example of how our country’s judicial system is incompetent in dealing with mass tort cases. On the intervening night of 2nd -3rd December 1984, there occurred in Bhopal the most tragic industrial disaster in which thousands of persons lost their lives and lakhs of people suffered injuries of various kinds. Our ineptitude in dealing with such cases came out in the open when the Union of India filed a case against the Union Carbide Corporation (the defendants) in the United States of America. The suit was brought in the courts of America very selfishly by the Indian Government so that justice could be meted out to those who suffered, but only highlighting their own incompetence and the efficiency of law of torts system in America. The US judge, John Keenan dismissed the suit on the basis of forum non conveniens (inconvenient forum or no jurisdiction). In terms of promises made and acts on paper a lot has been done to compensate the victims of this tragedy. The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (processing of claims) Act was passed in 1985 in order to confer certain powers on the Central Government to secure that claims arising out of, or connected with, the Bhopal gas leak disaster are with speedily, effectively, equitably and to the best advantage of the claimants and for the matter incidental thereto. Also, the doctrine of strict liability1 was formulated in the case M.C Mehta v. Union of India which was supposed to hold Union Carbide strictly and wholly liable for their acts. But 26 years later, this doctrine of strict liability has lost its voice along with all the future generations of the victims that have suffered without any fault of their own. The haste and the inefficiency that was shown in distributing the compensation in 1989 was almost barbarous. The compensation figure reached in 1989 has now been distributed amongst five times the number originally intended. Even then the amount distributed amongst the affected families was insufficient; some records say the amount was less than 12,000 Rs. per family. How could these families treat such rare and expensive diseases in 12,000 Rs? To add to their misery, it wasn’t just them present there who were affected but their future generations as well. Also, the estimate of people who were affected was the result of an arbitrarily arrived at scientific survey of the incident.

The seven officials who have been convicted are charged under the Indian Penal Code for bail able offences with a fine of not more than Rs. 1 Lakh. In fact the Central Bureau of Investigation failed to supply enough evidence to support the conviction of Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson who has evaded the law till date. This verdict is a slap on the faces of all those activists and NGOs that have worked so hard to literally beg for justice. There are many loose ends that need to be tied, the compensation awarded is too little too late, and this indeed is justice delayed and thus harshly denied.