BP to Shell out $20 billion; What about Bhopal?

BY SAJEEV K
Aug 17, 2010

As BP is told to compensate for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, where is justice for the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India?

 

BP on Wednesday agreed to pay $20 billion into an independently run fund to meet the spiralling costs of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, bowing to tough demands from President Barack Obama."We're going to use every device, legal device, at our disposal if necessary," senior White House advisor David Axelrod said earlier on CNN. – Times of India

 

BP on Wednesday agreed to pay $20 billion into an independently run fund to meet the spiralling costs of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, bowing to tough demands from President Barack Obama."We're going to use every device, legal device, at our disposal if necessary," senior White House advisor David Axelrod said earlier on CNN. – Times of India

The explosion in the oil rig and the subsequent contamination happened in sea, led to one of the severe environmental disasters the U.S. has ever faced. But apart from a dozen of people who died on the rig during explosion, no other deaths are reported due to the oil spill. But look at the administration’s response to the situation! It’s another matter whether people are satisfied with government's decisions. Everything was quick; BP agreed on the massive compensation within days.

Would BP do the same if that had happened in India or any other country? I don't think many people will have a positive answer.

Compare that with the Bhopal gas tragedy, which left 15,000 to 25,000 dead and lots of people suffering the after-effects. What happened after that? The site is yet to be cleaned up, unlike BP which is cleaning the site using all the possible ways known to them. Would BP do the same if that had happened in India or any other country? I don't think many people will have a positive answer for that question.

In the case of Bhopal even now the administration is not sure what to do. After judgement (that, too, took quarter of a century, and no one knows how many additional years are required to execute that judgement), we can only come to the conclusion that laws are not strict enough to punish and compensation paid is not adequate!

The irony of the fact is that the same day (BP agreed to pay the penalty) the U.S. also fixed the compensation to Vietnam for the after-effects of the deadly Agent Orange and other chemical agents they had used against Vietnam during war.

 

According to reports:

Thirty-five years after the Vietnam War, a $300-million price tag has been placed on the most contentious legacy still tainting US-Vietnam relations: Agent Orange. The US military dumped some 20 million gallons (75 million litres) of Agent Orange and other herbicides on about a quarter of former South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.

The defoliant decimated about 5 million acres (2 million hectares) of forest -- roughly the size of Massachusetts – and another 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) of crops, the report said. Dioxin levels in soil, sediment and fish in the same area were 300 to 400 times above international limits. That report estimated up to 100,000 people living near the site still face a potential health risk from exposure. – Times of India

 

Can anyone check the compensation ratio – (people died + environmental damages)/compensation paid in these three cases?

After the oil rig explosion in sea, the U.S. administration was ready to go after BP to the maximum extent possible – BP knows it. But what about Bhopal? Will the Indian administration go after Dow Chemical (which acquired Union Carbide)? And how much compensation administration will be able to extract from Dow? Will anything happen in the case of Bhopal; or after the initial enthusiasm, will everything go on as usual? Let’s wait and watch.

 

Background:

After 26 years, Indian courts finally handed down a verdict for the world's worst industrial accident in a central Indian city.

It convicted seven Indian former employees of U.S. chemical firm Union Carbide of "causing death by negligence" and sentenced them to two years in jail. It also imposed a fine of $2,100 on each of the seven former employees and fined the former Indian arm of Union Carbide $10,600 for negligence.

This was the justice meted out after thousands died, killed by toxic gases accidentally released by a plant of Union Carbide.

Official figures put the death toll at 3,500, but activists say up to 25,000 died in the immediate aftermath and the years that followed from exposure to the chemicals. Many more continue to suffer.

 

Survivors of the disaster from the nearby Jayaprakash Nagar colony stand in front of the Union Carbide factory one day after it leaked 40 tonnes of toxic gas into the city. Their eyes and lungs have been badly damaged by exposure to the gas.

The morning after, Bhopal 1984. Survivors of the disaster from the nearby Jayaprakash Nagar colony stand in front of the Union Carbide factory one day after it leaked 40 tonnes of toxic gas into the city. Their eyes and lungs have been badly damaged by exposure to the gas.


Living with contaminated water, Bhopal, 2002

Living with contaminated water, Bhopal 2002. Studies conducted by Greenpeace found contamination in the soil and ground water at the Union Carbide factory as well as stockpiles of abandoned toxic waste. Hundreds of people, such as these residents of the Ayub Nagar colony, behind the factory, still drink and wash with the contaminated ground water.

Photo credit: Raghu Rai


A petition has been submitted to quash a previous court order that charged the accused under “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”, contending that this had led to a failure of justice for the victims.