It is extremely distressing that the only articulate response from India’s corporate world to the recent Bhopal criminal case judgment has come from HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh. (The Times of India, June 18) Parekh, one of our most respected CEOs who sits on many corporate boards, did not comment, as might be expected of a conscientious person, on the gross unfairness of the verdict, which diminishes an industrial mega-disaster to a mere traffic accident punishable with two years’ imprisonment and a trivial fine (Rs 1 lakh). Rather, he spoke of the unfairness of holding company directors, including former Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) chairman Keshub Mahindra, criminally liable for corporate negligence.
The contrast between BP’s response to the outrage over the oil spill in the US and Union Carbide’s attitude to the uproar over the Bhopal disaster of 1984 couldn’t have been sharper. Confronted by a hostile public and a president who wants to “kick ass”, BP has pledged $20 billion in initial remediation and is mobilising another $50 billion — although its legal liability is only $75 million.
THE Bharatiya Janata Party, once cohesive and disciplined, is now so faction-ridden that it often ends up damaging itself by pandering to particular leaders.
The murderous attack on the Gaza flotilla highlights the Israeli government’s criminal character and its illegal and deplorable blockade of Gaza. The episode will globally isolate and delegitimise Israel.
The victims of the world’s worst chemical disaster abandoned hope of securing real justice a long time ago. As someone who covered the gas leak at Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticides plant in Bhopal from an early stage and has probably written more on the issue than any other journalist, I would put the date at February 1989, when the Indian government reached an atrociously inadequate out-of-court settlement with Carbide for $470 million, totalling no more than UCC’s insurance cover plus interest. The Supreme Court put its imprimatur on the deal and extinguished Carbide’s liability, civil and criminal, thus shattering the victims’ hopes of getting enough compensation to pay even for their medical treatment, leave alone damages for prolonged suffering
The Mayapuri cobalt-60 episode shows Delhi University scientists were reprehensible and proves again that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board is too inept, unreliable and compromised to perform its assigned functions. We need another agency.
One of the greatest failures of governance in India lies in appalling poor regulation of entrepreneur activities in the public interest. This is as true of vehicular pollution—less than 200 inspectors for Delhi’s 5 million-plus registered motor vehicles—as it is of such diverse areas as natural gas, education, and the higher judiciary. It is often comfortingly thought that self-regulation is the answer given the near-impossibility of reforming our lethargic and corrupt bureaucracy. Alas, this is largely an illusion.