Some lessons from the Bhopal outcome
Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer
|The court verdict shows that India is still in a Victorian imperial-feudal era, distances away from the socialist dream.|
The political parties that were in power during these years are guilty of culpable neglect
One extraordinary feature of the outcome is that the highest officer who was involved in Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, is nowhere in the picture
The mass slaughter that occurred in Bhopal on December 2, 1984 was the consequence of an American multinational corporation dealing with Indian lives in a cavalier manner. Some 20,000 people were “gasassinated.” Yet, after 26 years of trial, the culprits get two years of rigorous imprisonment as punishment. Such a thing can happen only in bedlam Bharat.
The President of the United States and the white world, and the Prime Minister of brown India, shout themselves hoarse against terrorism by the Taliban and the Maoist-naxalites. However, when it came to carnage caused by an American company in a backward region of India, it took all of 26 years to get a court judgment.
India is but a dollar colony, and so the “gasassination” has been treated as a minor crime. This is Macaulay’s justice of Victorian vintage still ruling India. Our Parliament and the Executive are less concerned with the lives of ‘We, the People of India’; their deprivation is of little consequence. The judiciary is another paradigm of insouciance and it is often indifferent to its fundamental duty of issuing a swift verdict. Parliament is too busy making noises to be able to make laws to defend citizens’ lives. The investigative-judicial delay that has occurred is unpardonable for a crime of this kind.
Indian courts will do justice — if proper judges are appointed and fair procedures are made, if sensitive and sensible laws are enacted and the Executive has the needed independence, alacrity and integrity.
Meanwhile, this socialist democracy continues to be a cause for despair for the common people. This contradiction must end. We have enough human resources to redeem the pledge of the Father of the Nation whose ambition was to wipe every tear from every eye. This trust of Indian sovereignty was ludicrously violated in Bhopal.
Every poor man in hungry despair resisting the British Empire was once called a Congressman. When the Congressman came to power after freedom, every hungry militant was called a Communist. When the Communists came to power in some States and still kept many people starving, these poor men were called naxalites.
Does India have a future? Yes, provided the glorious Constitution and the marvellous cultural tradition, sharing the vision of both Karl Marx and Mahatma Gandhi, are realised. Have we such a sensitive perception? Have the instrumentalities under the Constitution a noble mission and a passion? Have the judges such an ambition? The Bhopal decision shows that India is still in a Victorian imperial-feudal era, distances away from the socialist dream.
One extraordinary feature of the outcome is that the highest officer who was involved in Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, is nowhere in the picture. This is but mockery of justice. If the chief criminal is beyond the party array, the millions who are the victims are being mocked by the trial of lesser offenders. In exempting the powerful from criminal jurisdiction, the law has become lame. Is an American criminal immune to investigation by an Indian court order? Such discrimination makes justice risible.
Over the 26 years it took, what was the Supreme Court, with so many judges who have original jurisdiction to try cases when fundamental rights are violated, doing? The Government of India did not move the court for an early trial? Now the Law Minister says he is not happy with this two years’ rigorous imprisonment that has been granted. During these 26 years, no amendment to Sections 300 to 304 of the Indian Penal Code was moved or enacted, or severe punishment written into the Penal Code. This by itself constitutes dereliction of duty on the part of Parliament and the Executive. The political parties that were in power during these years are also guilty of culpable neglect: they slept over the noxious infliction on Indian humanity.
Fair compensation has not been paid to the victims. A huge hospital financed by Union Carbide was built in Bhopal. But it is not for the poor but the rich. It is over the bodies of the poor that the hospital building was built, and still the have-nots have no access to it. The Supreme Court, seemingly lost in issues relating to its own allowances and perks, did not call up the case from the trial court and decide it at once.
Warren Anderson is a closed chapter for the U.S. The most powerful nuclear nation has its bizarre sense of justice which should give courage for the Indian plural masses to resist dollar colonialism. Americans are above our rule of law. Brown India must be satisfied by White Justice where MNC bosses are indicted.
Washington swears by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it uses a nuclear treaty to leverage things to its own advantage. India has no guts to call this bluff. We have MNCs with cosmic jurisdiction. Anderson is an American, so is Union Carbide. Its ukase is just on Asian fuel in earth. Indian justice is for municipalities and panchayats, not beyond.