DC Edit | Lesson from Bhopal nightmare
Deccan Chronicle. | DC Correspondent
The Supreme Court dismissing the Union government’s curative petition seeking an additional Rs 7,844 crores from the successor firms of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) to extend higher compensation to the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy reflects, once again, the collective failure of the Indian State first to prevent one of the world’s worst industrial disasters and then to bring relief to the victims commensurate with their losses.
Official figures say close to 4,000 people lost their lives and almost five lakh impacted by the 1984 leakage of methyl isocyanate stored in the pesticide factory the multinational company ran in the Madhya Pradesh capital. It has been established that the company had displayed criminal negligence in maintaining the safety systems with respect to the deadly chemical.
How our state failed its own people is evident from the fact that the foreign national who sat at the top of the company and who would have stood trial for his role escaped from the country and never returned to face justice. A quarter century later, seven persons were awarded a sentence of two years in jail. The US-based company paid $470 million (then Rs 715 crores) as compensation as per the settlement reached in 1989. There were serious allegations that the government had compromised the interests of the victims when it agreed to the deal, which were upheld later by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has now found that the government’s claim for a top-up of the compensation has no foundation in legal principle. It sees no fraud in the settlement and hence cannot undo it, the object for which the Union government moved the court in 2010. The court also chastised the government for not introducing an insurance cover which the latter had promised.
Unless a country discovers the worth of its people on its own, no one else can make it. The Bhopal tragedy will keep reminding us of this important responsibility.