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BP and Bhopal

When President Barack Obama went after BP and demanded a $20 billion dollar fund be set up for victims of the Gulf oil spill, the people of India were furious.  They saw a US double standard.  The US demonstrated it values human life within the US more than the lives of the people of India.

BP should pay $20 billion in compensation, probably even more. The people of India agree with that.

But people are angry because the US is treating the oil spill, called the worst environmental disaster in US history, in a radically different way than the US treated the explosion of a US-owned pesticide plant in Bhopal India, which some call the worst industrial disaster in history.

The 1984 Bhopal explosion released tons of toxic chemicals into the air, claimed the lives of between 15,000 and 20,000 people within two weeks, and disabled hundreds of thousands of others – many still suffering from physical damage and genetic defects.

The plant that exploded was operated by Union Carbide India Limited, a corporation owned by Union Carbide of the United States.

The disaster occurred in a thickly populated area close to the central railway station in Bhopal, an urban area of 1.5 million in the heart of India.  Most people in the area lived in shanty huts.

Thousands of dead humans and animals filled the streets of Bhopal.  Survivors complain of genetic damage which has caused widespread birth defects in children and even grandchildren of those exposed.

The soil and water of Bhopal remain toxic with heavy pesticide residue and toxic metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chromium.

While President Obama displayed outrage at BP officials over the 11 deaths from the US oil spill, the US has refused to extradite Warren Anderson, the chair of Union Carbide, to face charges for his role in the Bhopal disaster.

Recall too that Obama advisor Larry Summers, then chief economist at the World Bank, stated in an infamous 1971 memo.  “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the world Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the Less Developed Countries?… I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted…”

Obsolete and hazardous industries have been systematically transferred to the third world countries to not only exploit the cheap labor but also to avoid disastrous impact of these industries on the advanced countries.

Union Carbide put profit for the corporation above the lives and health of millions of people.  Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide, is attempting to distance itself from all responsibility.

In India there were two Bhopal developments this month.  The Indian government announced a compensation package of $280 million for Bhopal victims, about $22,000 for each of the families of the deceased according to the BBC, and seven former Indian managers of the Bhopal plant were given two year jail sentences for their part in the explosion.  These legal developments are a mockery of justice for one of the world’s greatest disasters.

We call on the people of the US and the people of India to join together to demand our governments respect the human rights of all people, no matter where they live.

Together we must bring about change in corporate development.  We have to emphasize social production for the needs of people and improved social relations.

If we continue to value some lives more than others, and to allow corporations to spoil some areas with impunity, our world will not last.

Unless we respect the human rights of all people and demand corporations do that as well, we will be damned to live out the Cree Indian prophecy “Only when the last tree from this earth has been cut down, only when the last river has been poisoned, only when the last fish has been caught, only then will humankind learn that money cannot be eaten.”

Bill Quigley is the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com

Alex Tuscano directs Praxis, a human rights organization in Banglore India. You can reach Alex at alextuscano@gmail.com

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Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.

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