Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Five Past Midnight in Bhopal

A must-read book on the Bhopal gas tragedy (December 3rd, 1984). A few snipets from the book's epilogue---

No one will ever know exactly how many people perished in the catastrophe. Concerned with limiting the amount of compensation that would eventually be handed out, the authorities stopped the reckoning quite arbitrarily at 1,754 deaths. ... Some groups now estimate that the gas from the beautiful plant filled as many as between sixteen and thirty thousand people. More than half a million Bhopalis suffered from the effects of the toxic cloud, in other words, three in every four inhabitants of the city. After the eyes and lungs, the organs that most affected were the brain, muscles, joints, liver, kidneys and the reproductive, nervous and immune systems.
No court of law ever passed a judgment on Union Carbide for the crime it committed in Bhopal. Neither the India government, claiming to represent the victims, nor the American lawyers,..., managed to induce a court on the other side of the Atlantic to declare itself competent to try a catastrophe that had occurred outside the United States. ... Carbide's defense lawyers argued that an American court was not competent to assess the value of human life in the third world. "How can one determine the damage inflicted on people who live in shacks?" asked one member of the legal team. ... "An American life is worth approximately five hundred thousand dollars," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "Taking into account the fact that India's gross national product is 1.7 percent of that of the United States, the court should compensate for the decease of each India victim proportionately, that is to say with eight thousand five hundred dollars."
The Indian government settled for $470 million in full and final compensation and no legal proceedings against the company or its chairman, without consulting the ones who suffered---This very favourable settlement from Union Carbide's perspective sent the company's stock up two dollars on Wall Street, a rise that enabled Chairman Warren Anderson to inform his shareholders that in the final analysis, the Bhopal disaster only meant "a loss of forty-three cents a share" to the company.
In the final analysis, according to official figures, 548,519 survivors would eventually receive what was left of the money paid by Carbide; a little less than 60,000 rupees or approximately $1,400 for the death of a parent, and about half that in cases of serious personal injury.

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