At a press conference on 17th March, five organisations fighting for the rights of the survivors of the December ‘84 Bhopal gas disaster expressed anger at the repeated non-appearance in court of The Dow Chemical Company, USA, current owner of Union Carbide, in response to the notice sent by the Bhopal District court.
According to the organisations, the Bhopal court’s notice was twice served on Dow Chemical through the US State and Justice Departments under the ‘Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty’. In the court’s view, Dow Chemical harbours the absconding Union Carbide from criminal charges pertaining to the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster and Dow has, once again, chosen to ignore the court.
In a bizarre twist, the organisations also condemned the actions of Dow Chemical’s lawyer, Sanjay Gupta, alleging that he obtains information on the case through bribing court officials. A member of the survivors’ organisations claimed to have been physically attacked by Gupta yesterday when objections were raised to his activities in court.
It is the second time that Dow Chemical Company has not appeared at this court and the survivors organizations blame both the Indian government’s ‘weak-kneed’ attempts at holding the US corporation accountable along with the US government’s continued support of the offending corporations. The organisations have sent letters to the Indian Prime Minister and to the American President seeking effective action on this matter.
The organisations pointed out that Union Carbide, USA was charged with grave criminal offences including culpable homicide for the 1984 disaster but has been absconding from the Bhopal District court since 1992. Under these circumstances, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal had summoned Dow Chemical to explain why it does not make its subsidiary face trial in the criminal case on the disaster.
The organisations said that the Indian government’s failure to make Dow Chemical honour the Bhopal court’s directions is particularly appalling since the American corporation does extensive business in India through more than six subsidiaries. They said the government’s repeated failure holds ominous portents for the “Make in India “ campaign launched by the Prime Minister with much fanfare.
Addressing Indian PM Modi, a spokesman for the survivor groups said: “Dow Chemcial’s blatant disregard for the Indian justice system, twice in the last six months, makes us very apprehensive about your government’s red carpet policy towards US corporations. We fear that in the context of your weak-kneed response to Dow Chemical’s non appearance in the case on the Bhopal disaster, your invitation to ‘Make in India’ could well be perceived as an invitation to ‘make more Bhopals in India’.”
Addressing Obama, a spokesman for the survivor groups said: “The Departments of State and Justice of the US government were fully involved as per the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) in the serving of the notice on the American corporation. However, your government has chosen not to do anything about Dow Chemical’s repeated disregard for directions of the court in India, a country where it carries out business through over half a dozen subsidiaries.”
A Bhopal medical Appeal spokesman said: “This looks to be the very latest example of ways in which acts of commission and omission by the US have assisted the accused in, firstly, committing the criminal act and, later, in preventing access to justice.”