Sometimes, I’m genuinely surprised by what the media chooses to report on, especially from different parts of the world. It says a lot about perceptions, misperceptions and what people choose to ignore.
Take for example the Bhopal Disaster (or the Bhopal Gas Tragedy as its called in India). The decision made by the Indian High Court yesterday convicted eight former Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) executives of negligence, almost 26 years after a leak of methyl isocyanate killed about 15,000 people. About half a million people who lived in the slums surrounding the plant were exposed to these toxins, killing many immediately with many more to follow. Even today, there are many birth defects that are attributed to the gas leak.
Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, already paid a $470 million settlement, with each victim getting an average of $550. Nonetheless, it has taken the Indian courts this long to come to a decision. Instead of culpable homicide (a crime with a sentence of 10 years), the seven Indian defendants were charged with negligence. In India, criminal negligence carries a sentence of two years imprisonment and is usually used in traffic accidents. In addition, the seven surviving UCC executives were fined Rs. 1,00,000- the equivalent of $2,100.
Even as many in India are railing against the verdict, there is virtually no reporting on the matter in American press. With the unfavourable decision in India, there are some that suggested that the case be continued in the United States. The State Department, however, has ruled out further review as well as extradition of UCC CEO Warren Anderson, an American citizen. At a time when the US government is trying to get “evil corporations” such as BP to make restitution to the people its mistakes have affected in the Gulf region, the ability to do the same is being denied to the people that UCC affected. The Bhopal gas leak of 1984 has been touted as one of the largest man-made disaster and the paltry compensation that has been doled out insults the victims.