|The UCIL factory, Bhopal|
It is almost a month since very vital disclosures were made by WikiLeaks in respect of the Bhopal Gas Disaster but, surprisingly, the media did not find it of any importance. The disclosures were literally blacked out. People wouldn’t have known about them but for the initiatives of the NGOs working for the welfare of the victims of the gas leak. They fished them out from the mass of disclosures and organized a joint protest rally in Bhopal.
The disclosures known as the “Kissinger cables” make the US Administration ethically and morally, if not legally, responsible for the Bhopal Gas Disaster that took thousands of lives, sickened and maimed many more. If one looks at the larger picture of the Bhopal tragedy one would find officials of the US Administration including those in its Indian embassy and some Indian collaborators working against all ethical or moral and legal norms from the beginning to end for the benefit of a big corporation. The entire script, however, was prepared and choreographed by the US.
Let us start at the beginning. A proposal was submitted to the Government of India by the Union Carbide India Ltd. (UCIL) in 1966 for “erection of facilities for the manufacture of up to 5000 tonnes of Sevin Carbaryl insecticide”. Except issuing a letter-of-intent, nothing much was done on the proposal at the government level for around three years. The UCIL took up the matter with the government again in 1970 indicating, inter alia, that in the intervening period the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) had devised a new technology in manufacture of Sevin using Methyl Isocyanides (MIC) that had brought down cost of the product by half.
With the apparent inactivity in the government in regard to the matter the US Administration got into the act, reportedly, taking a cue from (one) Kaul, presumably TN Kaul, the then Indian Ambassador to the US, who was keen to push the industrial development of India. The WikiLeaks disclosures reveal that in the 1970s the US government had pushed hard the case for UCC to set up its operations in India. It meticulously followed the UCC's case with the Government of India seeking exceptional terms to help the company set up a factory in Bhopal.
The disclosures also show that in 1973 the company decided to install the unproven MIC technology in the Bhopal plant, at the same time deciding not to abide by the then existing Foreign Exchange Regulations Act (FERA) of limiting foreign equity participation to less than 50%. During the same year, it seems, the head of the UCIL had approached the US Ambassador, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to ask the visiting US Deputy Secretary of State to lobby on behalf of the company with the Indian finance minister. A series of cables reveal that the UCIL managers were in constant touch with the US embassy officials in order to secure favourable terms for the UCC’s investments in India.
In 1975 the US Embassy asked the State Department to help the UCIL secure a loan from the US Export Import Bank. The official intervention paid off by the end of the year as the UCIL obtained a loan from the Bank in contravention of the extant FERA regulations. The disclosures indicate that later in September 1975 the US lobbying paid off even in the UCIL getting a license for manufacturing 5000 tonnes of MIC-based pesticides. The official US lobbying, thus, not only got a loan for the UCIL much against the FERA regulations (the provisions of which were apparently diluted under US pressure), it also facilitated establishment of the proposed plant at Bhopal with a technology that was yet unproven with all too evident disastrous and tragic consequences.
Having leaned on the Indian Government of India to ensure a “footprint” for the UCC in the substantial Indian market the US Administration continued to render assistance to it even after the MIC gas leak and the consequential disaster. It is now well-known how UCC Chairman, Warren Anderson, who came to India after the disaster, was granted bail soon after his arrest in December 1984 and was put on a plane for Delhi by senior district officials of Bhopal and then allowed to sneak away back to the US. The promptitude and the alacrity with which his escape from India was arranged smacked of enormously huge pressure on the Indian government.
Later, even at the time of settling the compensation for the victims of the disaster the US Administration was reported to have pressurized the Indian government to accept a far lesser amount of only $470 million than the $3 billion that it had claimed. The UCC lawyers reportedly went to the Supreme Court from the residence of the Prime Minister for the settlement that was arrived at in camera in the Chief Justice’s chamber. Even much later in 2007, the US Ambassador pressed the Government of India to drop its claims against Dow Chemicals, the new owners of the UCC. The US even threatened to link investments in India to the country’s stand on Dow Chemicals. After all, The Dow is one of the largest corporations in the US and such entities are the movers and shakers of its Administration which literally eats out of their hands.
For pushing an unproven UCC technology in a developing country and then bailing out its progenitor from its responsibilities for the massive disaster (caused due to its own acts of omissions and commissions) makes the US Administration as much culpable as the UCC and the UCIL. The then Indian government displayed just no spine for standing up to the US even for the sake of its own huge number of suffering people. Looks like there were massive pay-offs. Moynihan, the then US Ambassador, later went on record saying that the Congress party took money from the US. A senior lawyer and MP, Ram Jethmalani’s allegation in 2010 that Congress got paid by the UCC has not been denied so far. One cannot really put it past the Congress, the party that was in power through the 1980s both in Delhi and in Bhopal, as it has had a record of receiving funds from abroad.
What, however comes out in bold relief is the double standard of the so-called Big Power. While its heart bleeds for the violations of human rights of Sri Lankan Tamils prompting it to move a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council against Sri Lanka for their alleged wanton killing in war against LTTE, its heart, however, did not even miss a beat for death and lifelong injuries to hundreds of thousands of innocents by sheer negligence and apathy of its much-valued UCC. By the admissions in a cable of its own embassy as many as 15000 died and 500,000 were critically injured because of the gas-leak.
The US has always been like that – preachy only for others, not for its own people, especially its Corporations.