Bhopal and yet another tragedy

The Indian Oil Corporation has decided to help the new face of Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals to expand its business and operations in India. “Union Carbide is a fugitive from justice in India, where it is wanted in connection with the deaths of thousands of Bhopalis in the 1984 gas leak from its pesticide factory in Bhopal”, post the Bhopal gas tragedy Union Carbide was bought over by Dow Chemicals.

The disaster killed more than 20,000 and injured 500,000 others and counting! Union Carbide’s new owner has said that it has no intentions of appearing in court let alone paying any further compensation due. There is nothing surprising about this. Dow intends to provide the IOCL Panipat plant in Haryana with a patented Carbide technology with dubious safety standards.

A friend of mine invited me to attend a rally to protest against this last evening. I refused flatly. Why? Not because I do not empathise with the people of Bhopal or because I secretly support Anderson, Carbide and Dow– but because I do not agree with the politics of it all. I am shocked at the naivetey of the rally goers. They choose to call corporates names and talk about the evils of privatisation at this forum!

Strangely the choice to partner Dow’s expansion plans in India is IOCL a completely government owned PSU! Why haven’t the Bhopalis got adequate compensation? Of the compensation given “40% of the funds given out thus far is missing”, says Prabha of the Sambhavanaa Trust in Bhopal. Who was supposed to distribute the funds? The government! I hate to say this– but half way through the fight against one-dirty corporate the Bhopalis realised that the compensation they were demanding was pittance in comparison to what a similar scale disaster in USA would have begotten of American citizens? Who set the compensation figures? The government again! Yet, the fight is still not against the Indian Government who has at every stage thwarted the efforts at genuine aid to the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

The government was also responsible for the recovery operation post the tragedy where they partially buried hundreds like this.

Let’s reflect– had the government been even a wee bit concerned- this fight of the people would have been the fight of the Indian government too! The champions of this cause ought to be civil servants and not merely students and ‘voluntary associations of civil society’ (what we like to call NGOs). Incidently this phenomenon is a healthy sign of a more liberal and free-market society. Some people are dissatisfied if a portion of private enterprise fails, but satisfied if the government works at all! Free-market systems however work within the framework of the rule of law.

In a society with greater competition and many more corporates– a company like Union Carbide wouldn’t have been able to step forward again- quality standards would have been enforced, market shares would have fallen because people would have had greater information and well PSU’s like IOCL wouldn’t exist. Even if they did– they wouldn’t take the risk of helping DOW- why? Because they wouldn’t be able to take the losses in market terms when they did!

Sometimes emotion clouds over the light of reason. I believe this what has happened to my friends.