My World Through My Words

June 9, 2010

20,000+ dead, 26 year trial, 2 year sentence : The Number Game

Filed under: Current Affairs,Politics,Uncategorized — ashwinvk84 @ 3:35 am

One of the most forlorn stories in Indian history finally came to a very disappointing end. The Bhopal gas tragedy is a nightmare which will continue to haunt us forever. The sheer scale of incompetence and gross negligence on the part of Union Carbide India is hard to fathom. The gas leak which went on for close to 6 hours took out more than 2000 people on the first few days itself and by the end of the week nearly 8000 lives were lost. The accurate figure was never established. Even after 26 long years the open wound that is this tragedy refuses to heal. The long-term effect of this disaster is still being felt across the nation, ranging from respiratory problems and cardiac failure to birth defects in children. The scenes one can still see are right out of an Armageddon movie, dead blotted animals, dead trees without leaves and entire villages of people massacred. The negligence on the governments part is also clearly visible, taking them nearly two days to start providing proper aid and relief; and also the compensation for those killed were so badly handled that eventually when all the compensation claims are dealt with (sadly they are still being given out) an amount in the region of 10 billion rupees will remain.

Now can someone please tell me what the crime here is, killing 20,000+ people, 26 years for the investigation and subsequent trial or the measly 2 years imprisonment given to those convicted. Well killing one person itself is seen as the most atrocious crime, so killing 20,000 doesn’t even begin to compare; and also the long-term effects on the children, health of survivors, the land and the economics of the region is too big to calculate. All this because of Union Carbides clear flaunting of safety rules and regulations for making a quick buck. This tragedy cannot be described as an accident; it was a ticking time bomb and there were several warning especially from the employees unions who complained that they were severely understaffed and no proper safety training was given to majority of the workers. Also most of the equipment needed to prevent such a tragedy was not in working condition or just not turned on to reduce expenditure. Also the plant was handling more volume than it was designed to handle. Mostly, for the mere fact that the company initially refused to admit about the leak and also subsequently failed to inform the authorities about the type and amounts of gas released into the surrounding areas. The sheer quantity of people it affected was such that, all the hospitals ran out of medicines and beds to accommodate the victims within hours of the tragedy.

But, I feel though the above issue was indeed a grave injustice, the mockery that was the investigation by the CBI and government committees cannot go unnoticed. For sheer shock value the entire judicial process took 26 long years. For Indians this may not be such a shock because it is a known fact that the Indian judicial process is as slow as an old and dying snail. But the absolute magnitude of the whole situation one might think that there would have been some kind of urgency from the government; and today they reconstituted the committee to look into the whole disaster. Does it take so long to right a wrong? I mean there were committees back then too but incompetence of the then ministers of the same government cannot be forgiven. Even the then committee head Arjun Singh who was also the Chief Minister of the Madhya Pradesh during the incident has some tough questions to answer; from how the prime accused Warren Anderson the CEO of Union Carbide during the time was allowed to post bail and then use Mr. Singh’s personal plane to fly out of Madhya Pradesh and subsequently out of the country. Mr. Anderson is still absconding and today the government also announced that they are looking into ways to extradite the 90 something senile old man for the crimes committed nearly 2 decades before. If this kind of enthusiasm was shown closer to the incident the victims and survivors could have felt some kind of fairness.

End of the day, the biggest joke which in no way is humorous was that all the accused was sentenced to 2 measly year’s .The sense of injustice is clearly off the scale. I mean, first the trial takes 26 long years and then the sentence is so insignificant that the 26 year wait for the accused seemed more appropriate than the actual sentence. June 7th 2010 had been a serious black flag day for the Indian judiciary as well as the public; a day when the system clearly failed. I think the Indian judicial system needed an overhaul a couple of decades back; we still have laws pertaining to the pre-independence era. Like all good systems the judiciary must look to continuously evolve and adapt to changing times. It must cut down on the red tape involved in the entire process, streamline it and then fast track cases according to priorities. The regional courts must be given more flexibility and also more judges. As this case is not a one of incident, the Liberhan Commission took 17 years to submit its report, which was clearly inconclusive with no people held accountable. The Judiciary needs to take a hard long look at itself. Even though the judiciary at its core is still very strong in our country the judicial process has become outdated, slow (understatement of the year), and at times corrupt. If our country needs to move forward the Judiciary must regain the high pedestal we put it on, where it is even higher than the government itself, and also the regain the position of the most respected institution in the country.

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