A good 26 years after the horrific tragedy in Bhopal, the worst industrial accident in the world, a trial court has given its verdict. The verdict has made the entire people of India angry and disgusted.
The accused No. 1, Warren Anderson, the head of Union Carbide has been let go scot free. Eight others have been given a sentence of 2 years each and have already been released on a paltry bail of Rs 25000! Various other criminals who played a dirty role in the tragedy, from the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and the Central Home Minister, top government officials, officers of investigating agencies, judges and lawyers who stayed the hand of justice have all escaped punishment. Over 25000 people were killed in the gruesome tragedy. Half a million people living in the vicinity of the plant were maimed or affected seriously for life. The irony of the judgement was that the charges against the guilty were framed under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code, the provision normally used for convicting those involved in traffic accidents! It is clear as daylight that the entire investigation was manipulated by various governments at the Centre and Madhya Pradesh to make sure that the owners and officers of Union Carbide got away scot free. It is believed that the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi himself intervened with CBI to allow Anderson to flee India. The rulers and the bureaucracy were of the firm view that the arrest of Anderson, the punishment of the guilty and recovery of just compensation from Union Carbide would have given the “wrong signal” for the entry of foreign capital and would have set back the dream of Indian rulers, 26 years ago, to launch India into the superpower orbit. Today, the Union government is shedding crocodile tears and initiating a compensation scheme and also a plan to clean up the place of toxic substances. These are ploys to make sure that the anger of the people doesn’t turn into a movement for justice. The Bhopal verdict is one more strong reiteration of the fact that the vast majority of the Indian people are marginalised and justice never works for them. Justice will work for the people only if the representatives elected by the people are accountable to them and work for their interests. It will work if bureaucrats and judges are answerable to the people as their paid servants. This can happen only when people have power in their hands and a new political process is created where they are in the centre-stage of decision making and running the affairs of the country. The Bhopal verdict has imparted tremendous momentum to the movement for people’s empowerment. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s organise for change!