Indians demand US firm be held accountable for gas leak

An old Union Carbide plant owned by the American-based company Dow Chemicals refuses to clean up the factory premises, where tons of toxic waste is buried, slowly contaminating the soil and water around.

A study last year found the poison has seeped into nearby homes, where children have been born with birth defects for quite some time.


India, Bhopal : A Muslim woman holds a banner of former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson as they protest outside the Bophal court, 17 July 2002 along with gas victims. (AFP Photo)

Bibi Jaan, who lives opposite the old Union Carbide plant, says her granddaughter Namasi, like many other kids in the neighborhood, was born with birth defects. Today she can't talk or walk properly. She may look four years old, but she's actually seven.

“She was born this way,” Jaan said. “We've tried to treat her, and have taken her to all the hospitals we can, but she is not getting better.”

“We found very high levels of toxins, we found high levels of mercury and pesticides which the company had manufactured, still lying in the sludge,” said the director of Center for Science and Environment, Sunita Narain. “Moreover, we found it three kilometers downstream when we checked the groundwater, and found the same in it. Clearly this is unacceptable. And there is no way that Dow Chemicals today can argue today that it is not responsible for this.”

The Indian government has agreed to pay more compensation to victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, but the protests show no sign of letting up. Activists want the government to bring former Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson to justice. Attempts by Indian governments to extradite him from the US have so far failed.

Many of the half million Indian people affected by the gas leak want to see Anderson brought to justice.

“No one listens to those who suffered in Bhopal,” said 90-year-old leak survivor Rampyaari Jadhav. “This government is incompetent. We demand that those responsible are brought to justice, and we receive adequate compensation.”

Indians have reacted with fury to President Barack Obama's tough stance against BP. They accuse the US of hypocrisy, saying it penalizes firms like BP for polluting its environment, but ignores mistakes by its companies abroad.

“If this is not a double standard, what are double standards?” Narain demanded. “That in your own country, in your own backyard, you want to hold the corporation responsible for the accident and for the environment damages. You will go above the law to demand the price that needs to be paid; you will hold the company liable. But in India, where thousands have died and continue to suffer because of Bhopal, the American government can be so callous as to say, ‘We are very happy with this decision and we are glad the matter is now over.’”

Indians believe American corporations have a lot to answer for in Bhopal, and the cause of environmental protection worldwide would receive a huge boost if Obama were to ask the same tough questions that he's asking of BP of the companies in his own country as well.