Why can’t Manmohan Singh get Barack Obama on the hotline and tell him: ‘Dear Mr President, my country has just realised that the deal that the Indian government brokered with an American company that had killed 25,000 Indians in Bhopal 25 years ago was unfair and unjust. We need more money to compensate the victims and clear the mess that Union Carbide created. Seeing you negotiating with BP has encouraged me to call you and make a request that you please use your expertise in pressurising Dow Chemical so that it gets out of denial mode and remember its corporate social responsibility. ‘

The prime minister can also take a firm stand and say: ‘Mr President, it is not that my country is poor and cannot bear the cost, but I do not want honest Indian taxpayers’ money to pay for a foreigner’s fault. You can help in opening talks with the company. By all means, you are the supreme authority to mend all so-called laws. Also, I am sorry to say that Dow Chemical’s inability to pay will not leave other American firms operating in India in favourable light and we might be forced to change our laws regarding foreign companies, and they will then have to bear the compensation cost towards Bhopal.

‘However, I am sure that such a situation will not arise because you understand the value of human lives. Imagine, while BP is paying two billion dollars for 11 lives, Union Carbide got away paying less than 470 million dollars for 25,000 lives! Your country is known for standing up for justice and fighting wars to eliminate all evils across the globe. Why don’t you fight a small battle for Bhopal’s innocent victims too and get them their due? Oh, I forgot to mention, my cabinet is discussing certain direct FDI routes that might be made open in a matter of days. ‘

Backgrounder
The world is witness: The last couple of weeks saw US President Barack Obama in his smart suit doing firm talks with BP, formerly British Petroleum, to make sure it ‘pays’ for the environmental disaster. The world saw the president’s shining boot on BP’s throat, culminating in its chief executive Tony Hayward apologising for the
disaster, further strengthening the belief that cost-cutting measures at BP led to the mishap and the company is to blame for all the problems in the Gulf of Mexico.

Compensation amounting to billions of dollars will be made and BP, by all means, will clear the mess created by the oil spill before August-end.

The bird’s eye view of the entire issue: The chapter is almost closed. The government’s sternness reminded BP of its commitment to corporate social responsibility. The company will be using the best possible measures to clean the mess and has agreed to compensate almost unconditionally, resolving the much-talked-about issue within several ‘days’.

‘We have always met our obligations and responsibilities. And we have made clear from the first moment of this tragedy that we will live up to all our legitimate responsibilities,’ BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said in remarks to reporters after leaving Obama’s West Wing office.

Nobody is the witness: The world’s worst industrial accident that happened 25 years ago in Bhopal, killing about 25,000 humans, still remains nobody’s fault. The ones found guilty and sentenced (for two years) are out on bail. The pesticide maker Union Carbide, against which the verdict was announced, does not exist anymore. The company was liquidated and subsequently acquired by Dow Chemical, which of course refutes all responsibility for the 1984 catastrophe. Worse still, US courts ruled that Union Carbide could not be tried in US courts for the crimes done in India. (Interestingly, Americans do not mind trying foreigners in their courts and even wage war in foreign lands in the cause of justice.)

Union Carbide’s chief executive Warren Anderson could not even be questioned as he flew out of the country. That was the absolute last that India saw of him.

Cutting a known long story short: Because Obama’s counterpart in India at the time of accident did not wear shining boots, there remains scary darkness, literally, in the heart of the country. The peanut-equivalent compensation that the government brokered with the company was not even substantial to clean the toxic waste
that is still lying at the plant site.

The deals that were struck in the five-star lobby or in ministerial offices at that point of time are mysterious, but make certain things very clear: a) The value of human lives, in the eyes of our so-called leaders, is not as important as the value of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. b) Since ours is a peace-loving country, we cannot forcibly seek justice. c) A given set of legal rules is different for a wrongdoer who is a business giant from the Western part of the world, especially the USA. d) Our country does practise freedom of expression. One can speak, yell, shout, scream, and whatever else. Yet, that does not mean one will be heard.

Finally

It emerges now, in 2010, that a fairly handsome sum of Rs 1,500 crore – which the government collected via taxes and gave us hope of new schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, water and less poverty – will go towards covering up a blunder that the government itself committed 25 years ago.

Yesterday, the group of ministers (GoM) headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram recommended a fresh Rs 1,500-crore package to help the Bhopal gas victims and their families. This is the first time in over 25 years that the government has implicitly acknowledged that the US$470 million settlement was not appropriate.

‘The GoM has made ‘significant recommendations’, Chidambaram said before sending the report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. ‘Significant’ in what context and for whom, will remain unknown till the funding process becomes clear.