The verdict pronounced in the Bhopal gas tragedy case 26 years after the disaster occurred has brought more disappointment than relief to the victims. While the quantum of punishment — two years' imprisonment — is grossly inadequate, the name of Warren Anderson is conspicuous by its absence. All talk of sustainable development, environmental issues and human rights are rendered meaningless in the absence of justice to the victims of the worst industrial disaster.
Sonal Vijay Soni,
The Bhopal gas tragedy, 26 years on, has come a full circle with a court awarding the mildest possible sentence to those convicted. The shockingly lenient ruling may give the impression that it is easy for foreign investors to get away with almost anything in India. In a way, the lack of strong liability laws — which have, at last, been proposed in the nuclear bill — does lend credence to the idea that by paying a meagre penalty, an errant company can buy its way out of a major disaster.
The magnitude of the Bhopal tragedy, the long time that has elapsed, the light punishment and the probable escape of the chief accused are all cause for serious concern. What is obvious, and is perhaps not receiving adequate attention, is the need to set up a legal framework to ensure that industrial accidents are handled in the best manner possible. The first step should be the announcement of compensation for victims' families. The liability should be clear under the law. The question of who is responsible is secondary. Whether the company can afford to meet the compensation from its ready resources is also secondary. Compulsory industrial accident insurance can be introduced in the law. In anticipation of insurance settlement, families should continue to receive the salary of the deceased. If the number of casualties is large, an advance can be paid pending final settlement.
We do not have any concrete legislation dealing with industrial accident liability. The hydrocarbon industry, for instance, handles highly inflammable gases and entities like hydrogen at high temperature and pressure conditions, which is like handling an atom bomb. But we do not have a single law regarding the introduction, operation and procurement of technology and, hence, the liability. We need laws dealing with industrial accidents so that we need not wait for 26 years to get justice.
Brij Mohan Singh,
The emotional reaction of the victims of the Bhopal tragedy and rights activists is understandable. But an issue cannot be dealt on an emotional plane alone. The only Section under which the accused could be charged carries a two-year sentence. The Indian law, unlike the law in the U.S., does not have the law of tort to punish those vicariously involved. Comparing the compensation paid under the U.S. law with our own provisions will not serve any purpose. A review of safety in potentially dangerous industries and the reform of our legal framework are the need of the hour.
Considering the magnitude of the disaster and the number of deaths, the punishment is paltry. But our laws are such that two years are the maximum that can be awarded under Section 304 (A). So the law needs to be better equipped to handle such cases.