This Article is From Jun 08, 2010

Bhopal gas tragedy: America's double standards, say some

New Delhi:
Hours after a verdict drove home the point that justice, after 25 years, is nowhere on the horizon of a city left gasping for breath, America's reaction to the sentence in the Bhopal gas tragedy seemed tactless, even insulting. US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said, "I don't expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure, to the victims and their families."

The verdict was not unexpected. The court in Bhopal delivered the maximum sentence of two years in prison for eight Indian executives who faced charges of criminal negligence for the world's worst industrial disaster. Bail was granted immediately.

Stung, India is now asking why a series of decisions by different governments and the Supreme Court allowed the case against Union Carbide to turn into one where the punishment is no greater than what's awarded for an ordinary road accident.

And as politicians, investigating officials and former judges once involved with the case offer differing versions of why they're not to blame, many activists are looking outwards -  to America - where the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is being dealt with so differently. 

President Barack Obama, criticised in different editorials for, initially not acting quickly or aggressively enough, spoke a different language on Monday.

In an interview to NBC News' show "Today', Obama said he wanted to know "whose ass to kick" over the oil spill, adding that if BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward worked for him, he would have fired him by now over his response to the 50-day-old spill

There is, to many Indians, especially those fighting for a quarter of a century for the rights of the Bhopal gas tragedy, much to envy and to counter, in the America on display for its own crisis versus Bhopal's.

Eleven people were killed when British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in Gulf of Mexico.  Close to 8000 died on the night of Dec 2 1984 in Bhopal, and in the years since then, the number has climbed to close to 20,000.

The oil spill has caused extensive damage to marine life, birds and the US coastline in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In Bhopal, 26 years after the gas leak, the soil and the water are still contaminated, with dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals, and thousands still suffering the aftereffects.

British Petroleum has already paid 69 million dollars, just as first installment for the damages caused. That figure could multiply several times, with the company's liability still being decided. In contrast, Union Carbide paid just $ 470 million in compensation for the deaths it caused. That's less than $500 dollars per victim, insufficient even to cover medical treatment costs for those who survived.   

When asked about the possible extradition of Warren Anderson, the man who headed Union Carbide at the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy, America's stand was clear. 

"As a matter of policy, we never discuss extradition," said Robert Blake.

A US court rejected a formal extradition request for Anderson in 2003, allegedly on the grounds that under US laws, only someone personally culpable for a crime can be extradited. Anderson did not fit the bill.

In the case of British Petroleum, America is launching a criminal investigation that may lead to prosecution of top executives. 

Double standards, say many, who say America is avoiding its responsibilities in a case where the facts speak for themselves.