Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Section 304 coincidence

Two cases made national headlines on one day. Both slapped with Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, which is culpable homicide not amounting to murder. One was due to the mass killing of 20,000 people in Bhopal 26 years ago through corporate negligence at the Union Carbide factory at Bhopal. The other was the death of a young woman in Goa through her romantic association with Mickky Pacheco, a politician with a highly chequered career. One has caused great revulsion across the nation and the other has done the same in Goa.

Section 304 was slapped on Warren Andersen the CEO of Union Carbide 26 years ago and on former Tourism Minister Mickky Pacheco three days ago. Mickky Pacheco used his contacts to fall off the grid and disappear. Warren Andersen used the Government of India to falling off the grid and disappear.

In both cases poisonous chemicals were used to cause death. Mickkys 304 was due a tube of rat poison, followed by death and destruction of evidence. Andersen’s 304 was poisoning with deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant and killed over 20,000 people in what is arguably the worst industrial disaster the world has seen. Followed by a government cover up to make the disaster look less like a crime and more an Act of God.

In Mickky’s case, the state government is pulling out all the stops to nail him. In the Bhopal gas tragedy the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s office actually sent a government plane to fly Andersen to New Delhi and then out of the country to the safety of the USA, where his government refused to extradite him to face charges in India. They said he was not responsible, the Indian management was. Yet in the case of the British Petroleum oil leak into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, the US government is pinning responsibility on the CEO of the company and demanding compensation amounting to billions of dollars. The Bhopal victims got approximately $500 each and a US spokesperson said these memorable words: “$500 dollars is pretty good for an Indian.”

Andersen was warned that the Bhopal plant had major mistakes in its system. He ignored the warnings. But it is significant that Warren Andersen immediately corrected those same flaws in the factories in the US plant.
In Mickky’s case, the police, the media, the public prosecution and even the court is focused on nailing the culprit. In Andersen’s case the authorities released Andersen on the same day he was arrested and flew him out of Bhopal in a state government plane.
Congress leader Arjun Singh, was Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister in 1984, but he refuses to comment on his actions at that time.
Anderson was charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, grievous assault and killing and poisoning human beings and animals due to leakage of the MIC gas from the Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal.

A Bhopal trial court last Monday convicted eight Indian officials of Union Carbide. Anderson was not even mentioned in the judgment. They were sentenced to just 2 years and were given bail almost immediately and escorted out of the court through a back exit. The trial court watered down the case on the instructions of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC).
All three SC judges are doing very well after that ruling. One became a member of the International Criminal Court at The Hague. One is now a Congress MP and chairman of a commission of Dalit Muslims and Christians and the third shockingly, has been presiding over the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust that runs a 350-bed super-specialty hospital. The trust was set up by Union Carbide.

The Rajiv Gandhi government’s zeal to shield Union Carbide from justice as well as from paying proper compensation to the victim’s families is the stuff of legends. It continues till today with the Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi legally representing Dow Chemicals the company that bought Union Carbide. He made sure that a) they cannot be held responsible for the Union Carbide disaster and b) could not be held liable for cleaning up and contamination of the site in Bhopal, as even Union Carbide had not been held liable.

Mickky may get away scot free from his case, while the axe may fall on the family of Nadia Torrado, who may also get away with a slap on the wrist. The end result will just be a feeling of foolishness on the part of the Goan people who actually select people like Mickky to govern the state.

In the case of Bhopal, we will continue to feel anger, revulsion and deep pain as generations of children will be born deformed and cursed from birth due to the criminal negligence of a company that was specifically warned of leaks in the system and impending disaster. Only now, 26 years later, a much more aware media armed with Right to Information, has uncovered the criminal negligence of the government of India itself. Our elected representatives that bent over backwards to protect an American company but turned their back on the deaths or 20,000 innocent people. And they continue to turn their backs on disease and suffering of countless numbers of those unlucky to survive the gas leak at Union Carbide in December of 1984.


Eulalia said...

Can someone do an interview with GSPCB about the state of industries, material handling, disaster management and industrial pollution in Goa? How safe are we? We need to know.
All of us need to know the risk we are taking by living in a place where dangerous chemicals are taken lightly. Even people with little kids freely spread ddt in their gardens!
We are a disaster waiting to happen.

Mohini said...

We need a movement of Vigilant Citizens to make our Government accountable.Its a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country.