Thirty Years Ago: A Cloud Over Bhopal

by Alfred de Grazia

Bhopal 1984 Man with dead child

Pictures are by Mr Mukesh Parpiani, Staff Photographer of The Daily, published in Bombay.

As the gas cloud began to spread over the City of Bhopal in India shortly after midnight on December 3, 1984, equally tragic events were befalling humanity elsewhere in the world. To the West, a million Ethiopians were starving to death in the middle of civil wars. To the East of India, Vietnamese and Cambodian armies were slaughtering many thousands. To the Southeast, a violent ethnic conflict was upsetting the island republic of Sri Lanka threatening the lives and fortunes of thousands of persons. To the Northwest, two bloody wars were downing their victims by the thousands and four nations -- Afghanistan, The Soviet Union, Iran and Iraq -- were involved. We do not speak of troubles along the vast Northwest regions of the Indian border. Only over the great ocean to the South of India did peace reign, and uneasily at that.

Within India itself, the month preceding the Bhopal tragedy had witnessed the crazed killing of thousands of innocent Sikh Indians in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the number of deaths being on the order of that visited upon Bhopal by the killing cloud of gas. A pall of psychic depression already hung upon the City. Nor should one overlook, in seeking to view the Bhopal case in perspective, the toll that pesticides, such as were being made at Bhopal, were taking around the world, an annual total of 10,000 fatalities and 375,000 poisonings in the Third World alone, according to the latest estimates; nor that a gas explosion a few days earlier had killed five hundred people in Mexico City, again poor people of the neighborhood.

These events are mentioned to fit the events at Bhopal into their place in a world society that cannot govern itself and take care of its people. But here we are charged to discover what happened at Bhopal. In that city, there occurred an immense and dramatic tragedy whose lessons are both local and worldwide. As we move out from the Center of India drawing upon these lessons, we can see the tragedy merging with the great stream of world tragedies that must be controlled all together, and the sooner the better, by a world power operating under a single benevolent and beneficent code of law and conduct.

I apologize to the victims for not describing fully their agonies and sorrows in this book. If I did, I could not possibly say all else that I need to say, which I believe to be in their interest and which is itself abbreviated. I realize also that the dying, the pain, the sorrow and the testimony are not yet ended.

Alfred de Grazia
Bombay, India

4th April, 1985.

In the Coolness of Night

The cloud, called appropriately by some Indian newspapers "the killer-cloud", emerged in full hissing fury close to 1:00am from a venting tower, after passing through an apparatus designed to render harmless the poisonous gas of methyl-isocyanate (MIC). The gas ascended the vent pipe in a long-drawn-out explosion lasting for nearly two hours. It was initially propelled by the extremely high pressure of the tank that had held it in liquid form and emerged from the pipe into the atmosphere. Then, directed by the wind, it streamed out, not losing its internal turbulence until expanded and cooled. MIG has a density twice that of water, yet the cloud, both wind-propelled and self-propelled, could spread out far and wide while training its vapors along the ground.

The air temperature was in the mid-fifties Fahrenheit, a cool night for Bhopal. A fairly stiff breeze was blowing from the Northwest, from the countryside down upon the eastern sectors of the City. Both conditions -- the temperature and the wind -- were misfortunes: the chill air forced the hot and heavy poisoned moisture of the release to carry along close to the ground, preventing it from rising and dissipating.
The wind blew the gas through the most densely settled sectors of the city. About twenty-five square miles of territory were covered by lethal vapors during prolonged venting.


Bhopal 1984 Three dead children

Even in the most tightly packed areas, the cloud did not behave uniformly. The variables that determined its fatality included the age and physical condition of the victims, one's sleeping posture, the position of one's mat or bed in relation to the open air, the varying use of cloths and water upon being struck by symptoms, and finally what must have been eddies, whorls, currents and pockets in the overall wave of poison.

The people knew right away the source of the poisonous air, although it was incredible and shocking. Thousands had fled their homes a few months before upon the occasion of a small discharge of gas and an associated rumor of disaster. Now they choked and screamed at one another to rise and flee, aiding each other when they could, the choking and gagging leading the fully blinded. Some stepped out of their huts at the first whiffs, strangling, and where too blinded to turn back in, were swept up in the gathering human torrent and often never saw their families, neighbors and friends again. Some fled in a fright that respected no one until they awakened as from a dream miles away. Havoc, chaos, madness in the mass: such words could be used for once literally.

No one ran toward the source of the cloud although to run against the wind would have been the rational action to take (as many who did not need to run said knowingly afterwards). Of course, they would have run up against the wire fence of the factory. To run crossways would imply that they would know the dimensions of the cloud; but so far as they knew the cloud might have been infinitely large. Wherever they turned they were met by a haze that worsened the choking, blindness and retching. Death and coma came as a final release from an excruciating agony, no matter whether of minutes or hours. The merely injured would continue to suffer hours, days and weeks of torture.

To the dead left behind were joined those dying along the line of rout. The crowd grew to be enormous and moved rapidly. In three quarters of an hour, its original surviving members had rushed five kilometers. This we know by figuring from the time of the gas release to the time when the Director of Medical Services, hastening to discover the trouble, was met by the onrush of people and had his car turned around and boarded by a score of victims, several of whom had expired but were mounted by others on the hood and top anyway. All obstacles were overrun; every cart, bicycle, and car was pressed into service. The incapacitated were sometimes trampled in the dark tumult. The dead, the screaming wounded, were everywhere one turned. Although the crowd hardly needed to be exhorted, a police van could be heard creeping ahead with its loudspeaker blaring: "Run for your lives! Poisonous gas is coming!"

Cattle, pigs, goats and dogs were exterminated in the path of the cloud. Later on their carcasses marked the contours of the cloud upon the ground.

The workers in the factory saw the venting of gas from its first occurrence and they could run against its flow. They numbered about seventy-five persons and certainly did not constitute a trained and disciplined force that would venture forth in their vehicles (which did exist) and protective gear (which also existed in limited quantity, the oxygen masks being of twenty-minutes duration) to give first aid (of what kind?) to the people crying out for help (in the dark inaccessible corners unreachable save by stretcher -- what stretcher?). Emergency help from the factory was nil.

The whitish greenish gas thus extruded was sufficient to have killed the million people of Bhopal had they been equally exposed and had the gas been sprayed uniformly in 180 degrees of arc. It is believed by toxicologists and it has been made into a rule in India and the United States that one in fifty million parts of methyl-isocyanate is enough to cause harm to a human exposed to it in an eight-hour work day. Twenty parts per million will send a person into agonies within five minutes. MIC is so reactive that experts Arthur Palotta and E. J. Bergin suspect it to be potentially a mutagen, teratogen, and carcinogen.

A tank of MIC thus becomes a kind of neutron bomb capable of fusion and explosion simply by adding water to it: people are destroyed and property is preserved. It is a wonder that terrorists have not targeted MIC installations, but perhaps untrained employees in charge of unsafe systems can also do the job.

A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp. 17-20

The Medical Emergency and the Prognosis

Bhopal 1984 A man leading a blinded couple

The symptoms of MIC poisoning have been familiar around the world and anyone who goes into the shanties of Bhopal can get first-hand accounts of them. MIC is a common element in pesticides and pesticidal poisoning is endemic everywhere. Yet there must be thousands of public health and medical officers around the world who have observed victims of poisoning without bringing effective pressure upon the sources of the poisoning to investigate and publicize what they know about the materials they are producing and shipping. In this case some fault must lie with the parent company and the U.S. agencies that are charged with research and dissemination of information in this area. Since the United States Congress votes the largest appropriations in the world for public health research, it would appear in order for a committee of Congress to investigate the failure on the part of both Union Carbide and the several Federal agencies concerned to live up to their responsibilities.

If the first symptoms of MIC poisoning are corroding lungs, inflamed bronchial tubes and throat, glazing eyes, and gastrointestinal upheaval, they are not the complete and final list. Comas, indicating a trauma of the central nervous system, were frequent, also dizziness, and often severe muscular weakness, again denoting neurological disorder. Postmortems were conducted in many cases. The lungs were found to weigh twice or three times the normal because of the weight of fluids in them. The blood of a patient who died on the first day was pink; if he died after a week of 168 hours of agony, his blood shows up a dark red and his organs are congested. MIC or its compounds, amines and cynamide, are found in the blood. The hemoglobin of the blood is deactivated.

Major questions of cure arose. That people continued to die settled the point whether the disability might be progressive. Several were dying each week, months later. For how long would the possibility of death be imminent? And, if not death, how long would the disability persist? Union Carbide USA arranged with well-known specialists, one on pulmonary conditions and the other on ophtalmology, to fly to Bhopal a week after the gas escape. Both gave optimistic statements after three days of examining patients. MIC, they said, does not course through the body and affect organs other than the lungs and eyes. Once past the initial crisis, the patient's bodily fluids will dissolve the MIC. However, pneumonia and bronchitis may more readily develop out of lung damage. Furthermore, in cases of prolonged oxygen deprivation, the heart, brain, nervous system, and, with pregnant women, foetuses, may suffer damage. Permanent eye damage was discounted; any damage would repair itself except where the cornea had become discolored and this would, the doctors promised, be repaired by corneal transplants.

The treatment afforded most victims was a matter of a few minutes. They then dragged themselves back to their hovels, thereabouts to remain to this day, three months later, mourning their lost ones, complaining of their physical weakness, trying to keep track of their periodically renewable medical prescriptions, and venturing out or sending someone to get their food rations. Mobile clinics go about dispensing liberally analgesics, antibiotics, eye washes, and antacids, arranging also, in cases of pathological changes, for hospital examination.

The deep mental depression that has settled down upon many thousands of victims goes unattended. This is not regarded as an "illness." No one has yet alluded to other mass traumas and counseled: "See here, you have a mass trauma as bad as those of the Nazi camps and Hiroshima. This requires as many doctors and clinicians as the physical trauma." And, of course, the physical and the mental are interacting. Despite all assurances and display of caution by the authorities and experts, when it came time to process the remaining tons of MIC in order to dispose of it safely, a terror seized the city and a massive evacuation took place. The officials and scientists in charge of the processing went to ridiculous extremes in providing safety measures, giving the pompous title of numbered safety systems to such impressive expedients as hanging wet cloths over the gas vent, draping wet cloths over the wire fences, arranging for extra fire-fighting and water-hosing equipment to stand by, and sending a water-laden helicopter into the air to flush any vapor cloud that might be aloft.

The "People's Movement," in close contact with the victims, realized their psychic state and brought forth as well the variety of physical symptoms that were both cause and effect of the mental ones. Besides breathlessness, burning of the eyes (it was painful to go out in the sun), impaired vision and coughing exhaustingly, there were adduced the common complaints of bodily weakness, bodily pains, palpitations, giddiness, frothing at the mouth, convulsions and comas. Long after the first week, people returning home felt dizzy and even fainted upon sweeping floors or opening doors and cupboards. That MIC clings to cloth and rugs an American reporter from a chemical journal discovered; all dry goods had to be well washed. To many the well water had a metallic taste. The City water and the lake waters were pronounced safe to use, but few believed the announcements, and the fish and meat and vegetables coming on the market were likewise shunned or eaten fearfully despite pronouncements of their edibility. It was also discovered that people who had been sitting by their smoky little fires or who had been drinking alcohol before the gas cloud crept in seemed to have been less affected by it.

The "People's Movement" registered some botanical and zoological observations as well. Leaves of all types of plants and trees were scorched to a blue-black except the tamarind (imli); pomegranate leaves turned yellow, pipal leaves black. Chickens were less affected than fish, goats, cows and dogs. The upper layers of stored wheat flour (atta) took on a greenish hue. The hundreds of animal carcasses, most bloated and near bursting with their gases, were finally picked up by hand or by crane and dumped in a freshly dug, one acre-square ten-foot pit and spread with salt, bleach, lime and caustic soda, then covered over with earth.

A month following the visit of the American doctors who gave an optimistic report, a McGill University pharmacologist came to Bhopal at the invitation of the People's Movement and examined about fifty patients. He condemned the governments for not providing public reports, even preliminary ones, on the pathology of and therapy for MIC poisoning, and he termed the pronouncements of the American doctors to be "outrageously unscientific." He commented upon the recurrent breathlessness and conjunctivitis, extreme weakness sensed, and loss of appetite and taste, the abdominal swellings, and the discoordination of physical movement. Further he stressed the severe disruption of menstruation in many women, and the occurrence of spontaneous abortions. It was elementary, he claimed, that when a poisonous gas arrives at the lungs, it proceeds to other parts of the body, and that the liver and gastrointestinal tract were likely to be affected. Despite much evidence of internal bleeding, no endoscopies were being performed because of a lack of instruments in working order. Mutagenic effects might take eight to ten years to detect. Finally, there was a total lack of any rehabilitation programs for the victims.

An equally critical account was published at the same time in the British journal, New Scientist. The lack of a long-term blood-testing program at Bhopal was deplored. A chance to learn of enduring and progressive effects of exposure was being lost; after January the blood levels of MIC in many persons might not be detectable. If blood tests were to demonstrate that MIC bound itself to hemoglobin and nucleic acids, mutations and possibly cancers might occur in the absence of countervailing mechanisms. Any highly reactive agent like MIC can react with proteins and DNA in the cells to cause cancer. Widespread metabolic disorders are possible, given the propensity of MIC to combine with amino acids and proteins.

Shortly before the Union Government appointed a committee of his group to investigate the disaster, the Director-General of the Indian Council for Medical Research declared, or so it is reported, that "there is no reason to believe that there will be any long-term effects of MIC poisoning on various organs and systems of the human body." Later his deputy vigorously denied that such a statement had been made. Nevertheless, this opinion, favorable to whoever wanted to underplay the events, seems to have preponderated for some weeks and still is prominent in interested circles of India and USA.

Yet the Indian Council's preliminary report of December 15 did state that "severe tensions would be expected to lead to significant scarring (of the lungs) in the course of healing amongst long term-survivors. Pulmonary fibrosis of a bilateral nature is expected to ensue with its attendant effect upon lung function. Careful contemporary and follow-up studies are needed not only to evaluate the nature and extent of the residual damage but also to search for any clues in the management of these cases in the short and long term to minimize residual damage. With the appearance of sub-acute and chronic syndromes as time passes, it is expected that target organ damage, if any, other than pulmonary damage, might be expected to become increasingly evident." The Committee set up a research unit to coordinate the work under the Dean of the Gandhi Medical College at Bhopal.

In a press conference at Delhi in February, the Director General announced that postmortem reports had revealed the presence of cyanide, that the respiratory systems of the cases examined had undergone "devastating changes", that a "significant and striking feature" was the cherry red color of the blood in all the organs of the body, and that there had been brain oedema, neurological disorders, degeneration of the liver and kidneys; further, lungs had doubled or trebled their weight. In confirmation, later deaths and illnesses occurred in conjunction with fat excesses in the liver, degeneration of kidney tissue, spleen injury and gastric and intestinal ulcers.

On March 21, an infant was reported born of a mother who was resident of an affected neighborhood of Bhopal (Jehangirabad) during the gas cloud release and who had suffered vomiting and burning eyes. She left Bhopal four days after the disaster and the baby was delivered at the Bilaspur Hospital in Raipur. The baby weighed nine pounds, came after what seemed to be a normal pregnancy, and was delivered by operative assistance. However, the infant's eye cavities were void; its skin appeared scorched, its fingers and toes were undeveloped; and its sex was indeterminate. It expired within forty hours. A pathological investigation was ordered to seek signs of MIC effects.

Under such circumstances, it would be premature to claim that permanent damage would not be suffered or that new symptoms would not occur or that injuries already evident would not worsen as the poison's effects gradually took command in various organs or that there was no possibility of birth and genetic problems. The resolution of the total complex of issues cannot be well considered, therefore, without some provision being made for the appearance of new symptoms or the worsening of old ones.

The heavy toll of the disaster and the blackout of company and government news on many aspects of the case has led to various conjectures about the substances employed, the large quantity of MIC on hand, etc.; at some point these must be investigated, even though they will be most likely dismissed as false. Union Carbide built a few years ago a research structure on the factory site at Bhopal. It is remotely possible that the research facility was being used or intended for use to test the chemical warfare potential of MIC or to develop other chemicals that would be hazardous in themselves or when compounded. Indian journalists have raised such issues, and have found a large audience receptive to the theories, despite a denial by the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology that it had authorized Union Carbide of India to undertake any research related to chemical warfare; the Bhopal facility was merely one of 900 laboratories in India that had been granted incentives. But, think the suspicious ones, the CIA would have been in association with the Company and certainly not reporting to the Ministry.

There is widespread suspicion of American motives and conduct in international affairs. Hence it may be well to open up the full record of the motives, economics, decisions, and correspondence that led to the founding of the research center. In the aftermath of Bhopal a not uncommon view is that voiced by the tabloid weekly, Blitz; it wonders whether Union Carbide will be permitted to escape full responsibility owing to the fact that the victims are Indians rather than Americans, and it criticized American law that gives compensation to U.S. servicemen who have suffered from their exposure while employing the defoliant "Agent Orange" in Vietnam, but offers nothing to the Vietnamese civilians who suffered from the same poison in much greater numbers.

The most effective mechanism for examining issues such as this would be the U.S. committee system in Congress; it can call hearings, order documents brought before the committee in charge, subpoena witnesses and eventually dispose of the issues.

In the tens of thousands of words of reportage and in all the eyewitness accounts of the events at Bhopal, one reads or hears of nothing that would constitute a systematic attempt at discovering the numbers of victims. Nor does it seem that anybody was in a position to make such an enumeration. At the hospitals, record-keeping is ordinarily done in a less than perfect manner; The Times of India recently published an investigative report documenting the lamentable state of medical records. During the emergency all semblance of control over admissions and releases was lost. Consider only that patients by the thousands were camped on the grounds outside. All control over burials at the Muslim cemeteries and of the mass cremations by the Hindus was lost. (A man, thought dead, climbed down from his own funeral pyre.) There was no accounting for the numbers of people leaving the city and returning.

The moment came when serious estimators were trying to arrive at the figures of the dead by guessing the amount of wood that was used in the fires that the Hindus used as funeral pyres. (The State Government later announced with macabre pride that its Forest Department had provided 20,000 quintals of wood, two million pounds, for the crematory holocaust.) Nobody knows how many bodies were cast into the waters. One small boy pulled himself from the waters into which he had been tossed as dead. Many bodies were carried to the villages and as far as Indore for burial or cremation, and many persons died too in these removed places.

A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp. 34-41

Bhopal 1984 Funeral pyres

Secrecy, Reductionism and the Press

Bhopal 1984 Blinded woman nursing

The press, both American and Indian, did a creditable job of reporting and analyzing the Bhopal disaster and its aftermath. It continues to do so, despite the curtain of secrecy dropped quickly over the case by the authorities and maintained in place to this day. Coverage has dropped because of lack of resources, because of the secrecy, and because to say anything more one would have to venture into vast areas not defined as "news." To mention only several, the New York Times, the Times of India, and India Today have presented extensive material of high quality. That the New York Times will ultimately have spent half a million dollars to treat the Bhopal disaster is in line with the serious nature and ample resources of that journal. The reports of volunteer groups, quite another genre, such as the People's Movement, the Delhi Science Forum, and the Eklavya group also contributed valuable services.

At an extreme from the New York Times in every material regard would be the Hitavada, a diligent newspaper published in the English language in some 12,000 copies a day at Bhopal. Here one can find the archetype of so many American stories and films about a bygone day, authentic folk heroes, the fighting editor with the couple of reporters, operating in a corner of a cavernous cement room where hand fonts and antique linotypes feed composition to loosely clacking presses under pale weak lights.

What has the Hitavada done? It has covered the great story from hour to hour with profound compassion and solicitude for the victims. It has been a troublemaker for the authorities and experts, pointing out many contradictions without regard to party, asking probing questions (sometimes far-fetched), venturing pessimistic opinions, and pressing for medical help and compensation.

Another dimension of the press in Indian society, as in America, is its symbiotic relationship with the voluntary sector. One provides news; the other publicizes the activity. Thus can the poor swing their weight about with some effect. Despite their seemingly hopeless problems of numbers and scarce resources, the Indian people energetically "petition for a redress of grievances" and act "peacefully to assemble," if I may employ U.S. terms. Environmentalists quickly responded from several centers, such as "The people's Initiative" of Bhopal, Zahrili Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha. From several cities like Delhi and Ahmedabad, environmentalists responded with all too scarce resources and the U.S. groups were totally caught off guard; the charities (Red Cross, Catholic charities, et al) responded, but much response was of the "Just think if it had happened here" kind, and much of the Bhopal coverage in the U.S. news was actually coverage of the non-news that nothing was happening, and why a disaster was or was not going to happen at the Union Carbide plant in West Virginia.

"People's Movements" were generated promptly in India. When relief was delayed, street demonstrations were held. Film-makers were among their leaders -- "participant observation" would be the sociological term for it. Pickets marched before the government offices. Manifestations of a public opinion that would not have been heard, if left to the victims alone to voice, or to the governments or the corporations, were publicized in advance and afterwards in the newspapers. Authorities made light of the agitation, but with the press writing about it and about the governmental response, some help came fast.

Precursor to the thousand reporters who descended upon Bhopal after December 3 was a solitary journalist from Bhopal, Rajkumar Keswani, who in several articles beginning in 1982 attacked safety precautions at the Union Carbide installation as inadequate, and predicted a general disaster to the City. He began his one-man campaign in a weekly Hindi newspaper on September 26, 1982. On October 5, several days after another of his articles appeared, eighteen workers at the plant were injured by gas leakage. In November he wrote to the Chief Minister to admonish him. To this letter no response was received, he claims, but the office of the Chief Minister denies having any record of such a letter.

In a large Hindi newspaper, Jansatta, on June 16, 1984, Keswani published details of the highly critical American experts report of May. 1982, and warned that the Bhopal population could be wiped out. Further, he revealed that the leak of October 5 had sent thousands of residents from the nearby shanties fleeing, to return only after many hours of anxious waiting. (I would note that this incident demonstrates that the neighborhoods nearby did have an awareness that great danger was housed in the plant; still no action was taken by the company or authorities to explain anything to the people to advise them how to behave in a larger incident, or to ready the governmental and company personnel for emergency duties in connection with the community.

When one considers newspapers such as Hitavada and reporters like Keswani, and what would exist in their place if they were eliminated -- as in fact has happened in many nations of the world -- one comes to understand better the role of the press in forestalling the death of worthy causes; this occurs at the same time as, and despite the tendency of, the press to drop a story as soon as the story moves into the process of resolution and abstraction. Without the free Indian and world press, and despite the worthy pugnacity of the victims' lawyers from the USA the substance and meaning of Bhopal would already be markedly reduced. Carrying forward and dramatising the news, significance, and symbol of Bhopal, the press transformed the tragedy into the form needed if there was to be a full hearing, large help and illuminating history.

The same Rajkumar Keswani explained in the Free Press Journal (16 December 1984) the failure of his solitary battle against unsafe conditions at Union Carbide Bhopal:

Mr. (name withheld by the present author) former Inspector General of State police was employed by Carbide as security adviser after his retirement. This shielded them from the police. A Congress (I) Leader is their lawyer. The posh Union Carbide guesthouse was always at the disposal of the ruling party. A separate suite was reserved for Chief Minister----------. Mr. --------- used to stay there whenever in Bhopal. During the Congress (I) regional conference, all central Ministers were accommodated there.

Senior politicians and civil servants were obliged to the company for employing their sons and relatives on fat salaries. On its payroll are the nephews of former Education Minister---------and Irrigation Minister---------.
This symbiosis or business, bureaucrats, and politicians can hardly strengthen the technological heart of industrial enterprise.

Several forces operated to reduce the dimensions, meaning and treatment of the case. Hardly had the first deaths been reported when denials were generated concerning the scope of the accident, and of any possible negligence, whether of individuals, systems, governments, or companies. Most of this was motivated by self-interest. But even among the unaffected liberal public one met up with psychic denial, a collective amnesia at work, telling one "Let's not make too much of it." Attacks on American lawyers also tended to divert attention or reduce the issue by ridicule and displaced indignation. In several instances I observed well-intentioned friends switching their attention from the plight of the victims to righteous anger against the "bloodsucking lawyers."

Conservative reductions of the deaths, injuries and massive social dislocation were commonly encountered. Hardly disguised was the hope of some that by some mysterious means those who survived the disaster would wander home to their villages (which are presumed to exist as some Happy Home ready to receive their errant children). Then, too, some medical experts were joined by many others in reducing the gravity of the illness, and in exaggerating the hypochondriac behavior of some of the patients, who had, it must be remembered, deep psychological wounds as well as suffering and agony, such that, after being seen in thousands of cases, make even a sympathetic doctor wonder if some play-acting is going on. In their exhaustion, the immense drama becomes surreal, just as it does for soldiers caught in the middle of a great battle.

Comparisons are made with disasters such as Hiroshima both to reduce and inflate the importance of Bhopal. Some people wish right away to put Bhopal out of mind and begin discussing marvelous new "safe" pesticides and natural ways of fighting pests. Others wish, "Naturally, turn the matter over to the government involved." Some say that the Corporations cannot pay the damages involved and so mentally they reduce the allegations against the companies and thus the compensation foreseen. Others accuse the victims of being illegally in the path of the poisonous gases, of being "illegal squatters," as if they had no business existing or should have been on holiday at the seashore when the cloud came over Bhopal.

The poorest of people have at least the sensibilities of the well-to-do for sorrow. Grief among the well-to-do and the secularized gentry of modern times is often an arrogant feeling of being insulted; expecting very much from the world, they feel chagrined when the world seems to turn against them. By contrast, the very poor, already inured to insult and injury, grieve more sincerely than many of the rich for the loss of their loved ones. They have little in life besides their loved ones -- a few clothes, several pots, a goat, and sticks of furniture in a room that they can only hopefully regard as their very own. They have no job guarantees, no welfare system to speak of save family and friends; they may be allowed to lie on a mat on the hospital floor if seriously ill, or they will squat there tending to a dying relative. The ill now must live on, partially blinded, with coughs and weakness of the limbs, musing upon the dead. Even the workers of Union Carbide, once they will be left go by Union Carbide, will become the instant poor, living on next to nothing and flooding into the crowded slums.

Hope can actually rise in the breasts of some people as they announce their happy discovery that the victims were largely the poorest of the poor and were almost surely illiterate, probably degenerate, and had too many children, and so on, just as they would have spoken of Jesus Christ, that "he was probably well crucified since he owned nothing but a cloak," which, we might as well add, even that was stripped from his body and parceled out.

Another view found in American circles, is that the Bhopal tragedy was a Indian affair, the Indians will botch it, they will settle cheaply and, then, paradoxically, at the same time they will say that the Indians are the only ones competent to handle it.

There is a constant tendency, among parties as diverse as the poorest of victims and learned American environmentalists, to reduce the Bhopal problem to a particular safety failure for which an assignment of responsibility and quick compensation are the proper resolution. To the contrary, I would say that the meaning of Bhopal needs to be preserved and enlarged. It is a jolting reminder of the gas ovens of Auschwitz, the radiation cloud of Hiroshima, the burned women shirt-makers of a New York City sweatshop whose death began a new chapter in the history of safety and better working conditions. Bhopal can be a watershed in industrial, even in world, history if the victims receive fair treatment and full justice, and if a new code of conduct comes to govern transnational business operations.
A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp. 47-53

Causes and Negligence

Bhopal 1984 The Union Carbide plant

The ultimate cause of pesticide accidents is the pest. Pests destroy crops, spread disease, and convey endless annoyances. They proliferate; under pesticide pressure, they also may change genetically to defend themselves. Means of combating pests are numerous and the most effective of them have been toxins in a form for wide dissemination, poisonous to humans as well as to pests.

Invention is a human non-genetic change; pesticides are continuously in the process of invention. As with all inventions, a time lag occurs before the adoption of new types of pesticides and techniques. The lag is brought on by dislike of losing one's investments in old techniques as well as by the time required for rendering an invention practical on a large scale.
Perhaps this needs be said because in the Bhopal case one perceives both the pressure of new pesticidal inventions and equipment and the resistance to scrapping investments in old formulas, plants, and procedures. These, too, may be termed causes of the tragedy.

As one works closer to the tragedy from such remote causes, he comes upon many a closer cause, so many that practically everyone whose behavior is mentioned in this report can, whether he wishes so or not, be placed in the network of causes with some justification. For legal and journalistic purposes, a disproportionate amount of attention is invariably to be given to the immediate cause, the "trigger-man," whoever committed the "one" act without which no gas would have escaped and the City of Bhopal would have rested in peace during the night of December 2-3, 1984.

Such a "trigger-man" appears to exist. He would be the worker who fitted a water hose into a pipe that sent or leaked water into Tank 610. What the American Chairman of Union Carbide implied of himself after the accident is true of this worker as well: our problem is not solved by nailing him to the wall. However, for purposes of delineating the chain of causation, it is as well to begin with the worker. He is known to authorities and Union Carbide and has been mentioned in the press.


A stainless steel tank emplaced in concrete contained probably 45 tons of liquid MIC. The Union Carbide Manual calls MIC (CH3N = C = O) "an extremely hazardous chemical.. by all means of contact" and regards it "as an oral and contact poison" even though it is not classified among poisons. It is also "extremely flammable." Most probably, water got into the tank through a pipe. The MIC, which reacts violently with water, turned into an explosive gas vapor that blew out the valves in its path. The event was a constrained explosion, not a leak, and the explosion formed a cloud which blew downwind over Bhopal. It was the simplest of occurrences: a tank of volatile liquid, a violent reaction with water, a prolonged explosion of gas through a pipe and out.

Sometime after 9:00 P.M., with the night shift due at 10:45 and not much going on, the "trigger-man" was taking a cup of tea at the company canteen. He had worked for seven years at the plant, and for reasons unknown, two months before, had been transferred into the unit that makes and stores MIC. He had less than the background and training originally required to fill his job as an operator.

Bhopal 1984 location of MIC structures

His supervisor telephoned him from the MIC area office to come over and clean a pipe. Cleaning the pipe in question was on the job list for the shift, possibly the only notable chore on the list. The supervisor himself had also joined the MIC unit two months before; his prior experience had been with the Union Carbide battery division in Calcutta. He met the operator at the MIC area and showed him a 25 foot pipe, 8 feet off the ground, that was to be washed. The pipe is said to have connected an MIC outlet from the manufacturing plant to the MIC storage tanks. The operator proceeded to open a nozzle on it, affix a water hose and flush out the inside. A drain hole in the pipe was opened to let out waste water, which then flowed onto the floor and out a floor drain. The supervisor stood by. Then the two men left the area. The water was running.

Bhopal 1984 Schema of MIC storage tank

I do not know the flow rate; it would have been heavy; in the three hours that it was running, I assume that enough water flowed to fill a large tank even while draining. Nor do I know the amount of water used ordinarily to flush a pipe of MIC residue. Nor is there any indication that either man checked to be sure that the pipe valves that blocked passage to the tanks were all closed. Could they possibly have thought that they were to clean out the "empty" tank 619? Not if the work agenda said to clean out the particular pipe. Is it conceivable that one or the other in a moment of confusion mixed up Tank 610 with Tank 619 and actually began to flush out the full tank 610? Probably not, although why so much water should have been used and let run on and on -- and forgetfully as we shall see -- is still incomprehensible.

Now, more negligence and another odd fact: the overfull tank 610 had been filled around October 22, for the MIC plant had been shut down since then. That is 40 days from December 3, over twice the recommended storage time limit. This fact is damaging enough; yet it lets us also think that these men may even have forgotten what Tank 610 contained! And we know and will know more about the respect accorded records in this setting.

Thus far, the "trigger-man" is just that and acting as a dutiful worker. He noticed that the valve leading to the MIC tanks had been sealed. (It must have been the valve to Tank 610, or that the valve to Tank 610 was open enough to receive leaked water from the first valve through a pipe common to all three storage tanks).

Then the "trigger-man" may have joined the ranks of the culpable. For he noticed that the closed valve had not been sealed by the extra metal disc, "a slip blind," that is standard and required operating procedure when contaminating substances are present in a pipe leading to any MIC storage. And he did not insert the slip blind. Nor did he tell the supervisor to do so. Nor did the supervisor act on his own initiative. Or so it appears. And the truth will not be fully known until both men and several other workers testify to the events in a court of law where liable to perjury charges, if then.

The "trigger-man" asserted to Stuart Diamond of the New York Times that "it was not my job," those fatal words so painful to the ears of managers, leaders, and theologians. It would be psychologically of interest to probe further how this utterance emerges from this particular man, interrupted while drinking tea by an inexperienced new supervisor, and called to a chore shortly before a change of shift, himself poorly trained and unafraid of MIC except as an irritant (he said), himself new to this unit (was it a demotion, was he being paid less than the job specified?) and having heard the common expression that "valves around here are leaking all the time," and being party to a general decline in morale at the plant. Cause after cause: perhaps something so small as a supervisor who may not have ordered a subordinate about in the right tone of voice.

Bhopal 1984 Vent gas scrubber

As the work shift prepared to retire, almost an hour later, the gauge in the control room for Tank 610 registered two pounds per square inch (2 psi) and was so logged. This was considered normal tank pressure. Temperatures were not recorded in practice; so this critical measure was and is unavailable. Ordinarily the temperature of the tanks hovered around 20 deg.C (68 deg.F), well above the recommended storage temperature of 5 deg.C (41 deg.F). (The Union Carbide Manual says: "Maintain a tank's temperature below 15 deg.C (about 60 deg.F) and preferably at about 0 deg.C (32 deg.F). Equip a storage tank with dual temperature indicators that will sound an alarm and flash warning lights if the temperature of the stored material rises abnormally."

The night shift came on at 10:45 P.M. At 10:00 hours, the control room operator noticed that the pressure on Tank 610 registered 10 psi, up by a factor of five from the 2 psi logged earlier.

The supervisor noted the rise also a half-hour later but thought the original reading might have been faulty. The men also thought that the pressure might be up as part of an expected pressure rise occurring in a sister tank, 611, where they believed that nitrogen gas was being used to push the MIC liquid into the mixer in preparation for the manufacture of pesticide. (This implies that they regarded such a "backlash" as not uncommon.) Now it was 11:30.

Between 11:30 and 12:00 employees in the utility area sensed a gaseous irritation of their eyes. They regarded it as some tiny leak, not rare. However, by midnight the leak is sensed generally around the MIC unit and the supervisor is told the news.

The workers begin to look around for leaks. One of them spots a drip high on the MIC plant wall with a whitish gas exuding from it. He reports it to the night shift supervisor, who may believe it to be water, and the supervisor is reported to say that he would examine it after the 12:15 tea break. This leak would seem to have been a true MIC condensation and spume, backed up through the pipe being purged and through the leaky valve, which by now would have had a heavy reverse pressure moving against it from the gas in Tank 610.

The operator in the MIC control room now reports that the pressure and temperature in Tank 610 has risen much higher. The supervisor and an operator go over to Tank 610 and find that the rupture disc has exceeded its bursting point and has blown; in addition, the safety valve backing up the rupture disc has popped out. The temperature is well over 39 deg.C (102.4 deg.F, the vapor point of MIC) and pressure well over 40 psi.

Thinking now desperately of what might be the source of the trouble, they turn off the water washing the tubes. It is about 12:45 A.M. a few seconds or minutes later, a vapor plume emerges from the nozzle of the vent pipe some yards away and 100 feet up, and the men know that an accidental discharge is occurring and can only hope that it is limited and somehow will lose itself high in the air. A worker turned on the scrubber which was intended to neutralize the gas with a caustic soda solution. A loud alarm was sounded for several minutes to warn the public beyond the factory walls, followed by and reduced to a muted alarm to warn the factory workers.

By this time, too, large cracks had been seen and heard to appear in the heavy concrete housing of the almost totally encased MIC tanks, and the prospect of an imminent explosion of the tank itself must have entered the workers' minds. Several had donned gas masks. Water was poured on the tanks. Hydrants and hoses could not reach up to the gas cloud itself, where it was escaping from the vent pipe. There seemed to be nothing to turn on or off that would help. Most fled upwind. The supervisor's gas mask was lost or used by someone else; he was gassed and then injured in climbing over the fence. No one else was hurt.

Around 1:00 A.M., through a patrolling inspector, the city police learned that something serious was up. The police control room was affected by the gas, and telephoned Union Carbide only to be told that nothing of importance was occurring. The Police Chief had two men trying to call the plant. Between 1:25 and 2:10, he got through three times. Twice he was told: everything is O.K.; then, that they didn't know what was happening. This was reported by Praful Bidwai in The Times of India.

A district magistrate heard of the action and called the Union Carbide Plant Manager, at 1:45 A.M. The Manager drove to the plant sensing the gaseous air en route, but could do nothing upon arrival. He himself thought for a while that the leak had been plugged, and said so.

Ever since the disaster, other ideas have contended with the leaky valve theory. One argues that metallic or other substances might have contaminated the liquid of Tank 610. Tests have now discovered traces of iron, lye, water, and phosgene in the empty tank. The head government scientist in charge of the conversion of the remaining MIC to pesticide in "Operation Faith" pointed out that phosgene, when combined with water would produce chloride ions that would corrode the steel of the tank, producing iron, which would accelerate a reaction with the MIC. However, the trace measures in parts per million are not yet available, and nothing argues for the presence of more than the smallest amount of iron, and all phosgene other than a minuscule fraction to stabilize the MIC is denied. Anyhow it is doubtful that a tank which had been standing quiet but whose pressure rose from normal (2 psi) to a valve-bursting point of above 40 psi in two hours would have done so on the basis of a water/iron-phosgene-chloride-iron-MIC sequence in so brief a time, especially since the phosgene was probably available in only minute amounts. It is more reasonable to theorize that the iron and chloride ions were generated almost wholly in those fatal couple of hours.

As for the lye, The Hindustan Times heard initially that workers had used lye in a cleanup of the area around Tank 610 the day before, but there is no evidence that lye entered the tank and in any case the reaction time would have taken too long and the gas created would have been too voluminous. The surmise is hardly tenable.

Another idea is that Tank 610 contained some new chemical diabolically conceived in the Research Laboratory and this substance either went out of control or was used to experiment on the poor people of the area. Naturally the CIA has been mentioned in this connection, and I would suppose that this suggestion ought to be ignored or else become the subject of a legislative or other public hearing in which one might at least put the allegation to rest and discover who are the public paranoiacs in the setting.

A favored idea among the chemical cognoscenti is that MIC might begin to transform from simple to giant molecules, that is, to polymerize, under favorable conditions of heat and temperature. Perhaps the chief obstacle to this idea's progressing is that water was definitely in the picture in quantity, and that the time elapsed between a normal and an explosive temperature was too short for the process to occur. Such molecules were reported discovered in the analysis of the tank residue, but these were probably formed under the heat and pressure of the total reaction.

I have already mentioned the incredible idea that the blunder made was stupendous, that the supervisor and operator somehow confused Tank 610 with "empty" Tank 619 and thought they should wash out "empty" tank 610. But then several items contradict this: the pipe drain was allegedly opened, the MIC valve was allegedly closed, the water was running so long accidentally, and so on. If any item makes this notion plausible, it is the long three hours that the hose was running, and the large amount of water that got mixed up with Tank 610. Otherwise, the idea has small merit.

But an estimate that at least 1.5 tons (450 gallons) of water was needed to gasify 45 tons (13,000 gallons) of MIC, is troubling. Few can believe that the valve in question could be so faulty. Still, the water would have entered the liquid from above. The main reaction would be occurring near the top of the overfull tank. Shortly after the rise in pressure, the newly formed gas might bring pressure against the leaky valve -- not enough to push back the water leak, itself being hosed under pressure, but enough to create a path in reverse through the valve. Somehow, we recall, gas backed into a pipe and was emitted and condensed high on the wall of the MIC plant.

The reverse gas pressure would strain the faulty valve. The valve would admit water at a faster rate. Soon it would be pouring at a rate easily capable of supplying the necessary 450 gallons within an hour's time. A concentration of MIC gas beyond all experiment and experience was primed for release.

A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp.73-85

Creative Liability

Bhopal 1984 Father and two sons by body of the mother

Corporate officials need disaster emergency training as much as do workers, particularly in relating to the authorities. The Indian officials were caught off-guard; they were naturally shocked and before they could respond to any degree they found themselves under arrest. While the world tended to the disaster, they had to sit around for long hours and days, in the unaccustomed role of jailbirds, comfortably imprisoned, deprived of contacts with their own employees, and out of touch with their headquarters in the USA. There was no chance of throwing themselves into the vast effort to help and reorganize the community. Seven were jailed, including the Chairman from America briefly. They would ask themselves, "Am I really a criminal," and then ask it again and again, incredulously, ironically, and, of course, "What went wrong?" To which they could not well reply.

The American officers had a better chance to be heroes. They were, after all, free and running, and had resources. The press fell upon them, of course, ravenous for news. Still they were able to think together and take action. They should have called in pastors and philosophers, but they brought in lawyers and public relations men. The tragedy was too large for such conventional behavior. Instead of blurting out that they would spend every cent they could collect to help the situation, they delved neatly into their treasury for a dispensation of an appropriate sum of rupees which did not look quite appropriate when translated into dollars. It seemed as if they were already trying to settle the matter. They were facing an irate world without a plan of defense, or a surviving populace in Bhopal that would have burned down the installations if it were not fearful of releasing more MIC. Nor to this day has an adequate flow of instruction or any constructive proposal come from the headquarters of Union Carbide. Their apparent scheme is to convert the mess into a technical mishap and legal case, to fight it in the courts until doomsday and take the best settlement offered outside the courts, meanwhile claiming and -- who knows? -- probably sincerely, that they want badly to settle the matter as soon as possible. Naturally they do, but on their terms, just as the U.S. government wants to settle the Nicaragua matter and the Soviet Union the Afghan matter.

Union Carbide Corporation is in grave danger of ultimate bankruptcy, arising out of its Bhopal Experience. If the bankruptcy were rationally handled, it might not be the worst solution, and, in fact, if the company does go bankrupt solutions on the order of those presented here may have a chance, if only because the handling of such a large bankruptcy allows leeway for ingenious reorganization of assets and meeting of obligations. Still, the managers of Union Carbide owe it to themselves and to the victims of Bhopal to exercise their imagination, to come out of the trenches, to put to work in a good sense the adage that the best defense is a good offense.

What damages can Union Carbide afford to pay? We have charged it with an obligation of $1.3 billion. Union Carbide is a multinational conglomerate with current assets of $3.58 billion and current liabilities of $1.9 billion, the difference of $1.68 billion affording some indication of what funds it may have no work with in a solution. Its long-term debt is $2.3 billions, which must be serviced or might be refinanced under emergency conditions. It earned a net profit of $323 millions in 1984, after reserving $18 million as a probable loss in connection with the Bhopal tragedy. It has issued 70 million shares, 20% to institutions; of course, by its domination of many affiliates abroad, scores of thousands of shareholders overseas look hopefully to its profitability in their sector; one needs bear in mind that a decision affecting the profitability of a Union Carbide company in Germany may be made on the basis of a decision in regard to a Union Carbide company in India or America.

Union Carbide is the 3rd largest chemical concern in America, the 7th largest in the world. It is the 37th largest company overall in the USA, and as Union Carbide (India) the 25th in total sales of India. It is the 31st largest of the world's thousands of multinational companies. Its many affiliates around the world give it the international needs and relations of a medium sized nation of the world, but one would not suspect this in examining its corporate structure or leadership. It has no Department of State or Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One may note, however, that the last but one President of Union Carbide quit to become successively an ambassador and Deputy Secretary for Defense and for State. It might be argued that this acknowledges a kind of career line, but whether it is complimentary to the Department of State or to Union Carbide is questionable in view of the proven reputation of the first and the provable reputation of the second for inertness in the face of the ever more menacing complaints and aggressiveness of all three worlds towards U.S. conduct abroad.

Union Carbide (India) operates thirteen plants besides the pesticide installation at Bhopal. There it employs some 750 workers, down from over a thousand at its peak several years ago. Receipts on pesticides amounted to $14 millions in 1983, composing only 8% of the Company's total sales of $175 million. Union Carbide (India)'s equity, which gives an idea of its net worth and profitability, grew by 15 times in 30 years through 1983, from $1.7 million to $26.7 million. The company, with five divisions, produces batteries, bulbs, lamps, pesticides, films, resins, and other products. Headquarters are in Bombay, and plants are owned in seven cities.

The Press Trust of India, a new service, reported recently that in testimony before a court inquiry in Madhya Pradesh the Deputy Attorney General of the State declared that, before the disaster, Union carbide of India had decided to dismantle and sell the plant because of its unprofitability and had instituted stringent economies and staff reductions affecting safety operations.

Its Board of Directors is headed by one of the most influential and successful industrialists of India. Its managing Director (President) is a mechanical engineer, long with the company, new to his position, and paid about one-tenth of what his peers in America earn. The same ratio of one-to-ten seems to prevail for all grades of employment. Presumably, this difference is equalized in the comparable life-styles that can be afforded in the two countries. However, one may object that the "work-style" is supposed to be 100% American, that is, driven by the executive's "work ethic." And the "profit-style" may be actually reversed, so that the proportionate profits from Indian firms exceed by far the profits obtainable in the USA. What this actually means is that somehow, mentally, the Indian managerial class in a multinational situation such as this one is expected to be of triple mind -- to think Indian for compensation, to think U.S. for production processes, and to think Indian capitalist or multinational for questions of profiting. These are not the best conditions for mental health and equanimity of soul.

What can be extracted from Union Carbide Corporation, this alchemical golden goose, without killing it? Hopeful and hateful figures are bandied about : $200 millions; $400 millions; $1 billion; $2 billions; $5, 10, 15 billions; but long before we reach the last figures we are speaking of a dead goose.

Many expert calculations will be made, based upon different premises. Here only one method of thinking about the question is suggested. One collects whatever insurance is payable. One takes from the company its Indian holdings and places the balance of the Indian Union Carbide under long-term encumbrances. One strips the parent company of its ready cash; forces it to sell practically at auction its best, not its worst, holdings, to obtain more cash; compels it to undertake new long-term obligations to trust funds set up for the Bhopal victims; and then helps it in every way possible to become the best, the most progressive, and the most profitable conglomerate multi-national operating in the traditional chemical industry that must be with us for a long time to come.

If these measures are taken, Union Carbide should be able to muster $1.3 billion to confront its Bhopal obligation -- $700 millions in the first two years (without interest), $600 millions with interest at market rates over the longer term, extending to twenty years.

How would this affect the shareholders of the parent company? If the company radically re-appraises and restructures itself for the future, it should begin to restore a dividend payment within four years, based upon a share value expected to be much lower than even at present. But shareholders and investors can behave in surprising ways. Should Union Carbide emerge like the phoenix bird from its own ashes; should it become a world leader in the organization and reform of world-wide trade and production, we should not be surprised to see it receiving a complimentary overvaluation or overconfidence in the market place. Shareholders might become patriotic and company-proud. It would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

More than effective internal leadership and a sound plan would be needed to redress the situation. All manner of legal obstacle will be brought to bear, whether by people who pretend to speak for victims or people who see their profit in blocking positive large solutions. For example, as I indicate below, a redistribution of securities obligations will be required, to which some stockholders might object on the basis of their immediate needs. Some few of these would undoubtedly institute legal proceedings against any conceivable plan to settle the Bhopal accounts. All the more reason that the Union Carbide plan be ambitious, generous, and progressive, for the company will need political, financial, press and public support from all quarters. The same public help can guard it against the corporate pirates who will be hoping to mobilize dissidents and take over the company.

A "Fire sale" of the Union Carbide (USA) share of Union Carbide (India) need not be required. If the company is assessed by Court appraisers to have a value, say, of $150 millions, the $75 millions belonging to Union Carbide (USA) can be turned over to the Trust Fund it is proposed to establish for the Bhopal victims. In addition, the Indian company could issue interest-bearing debentures payable over 10 tears to the amount of $25 millions, and these, too, would turned over to the Trust.

Perhaps the bulk remainder of $1.2 billions can be handled by borrowing on the market and by giving notes to be held by the Bhopal Trust, payable in decreasing amounts, with interest.

The shares of Union Carbide (USA) have been trading recently in the range of $40.00. This stock should be watered (with "holy water") by a supplementary issue of 50 million preferred shares valued at $20.00 per share, providing the Bhopal Trust with a value of $1 billion, that could be sold gradually as needed. The participation of the victims as owners of Union Carbide should let them enjoy and suffer and learn from being capitalists.

If the damages are to be settled in America, let them be settled by means congenial to American culture, so long as they do not conflict with Indian culture. Actually, the heavier interdependence and realistically greater utility of Indians to each other in extended families and beyond is congenial to semi-collective a settlement. Indians enjoy much more of a mutual support system. So one must pay to support the system as much as to support the individual. That can be borne in mind especially when one considers how the recoveries for damages should be expended and handled.

The arrangement ought to allow for both individual and system support. This may be done if the total amount of damages recovered were to be divided into three portions. The same Bhopal Trust heretofore mentioned would be assigned to administer all three parts. The Trust can be organized under Indian law under much the same conditions as in American law. The Board of Trustees would be composed of persons renowned for their independence, integrity, and skills. The American and Indian courts would designate the form of the Foundation and the Board Members in the original document of settlement. A large historical experience with this type of organization exists to be drawn upon in the USA and elsewhere. The tasks assigned the Foundation are large, numerous, complex, but no more so than those of a number of Foundations that have performed successfully in recent years.

The first portion of the damages would be paid at the earliest time to all qualified persons as soon as they can qualify by visual testimonial, and medical standards. A second portion would be held in reserve by the Foundation, with accumulating interest to be paid on an individual basis when sufficient time has elapsed to determine the long-term effects of illness upon the individuals. Any surplus or residual sum will be added to the third portion. The third portion would be used by the Foundation for system support and development whose functions would be educational and community development.

In respect to education, the Foundation would purchase from Union Carbide the present property of its Bhopal pesticides plant and from the City of Bhopal a segment of the communities devastated by the gas cloud. The structures would be maintained as a national monument to industrial safety, open to the world, with a museum for industrial safety, employing to the maximum extent as caretakers victims of the disaster.

Then, upon this same land would be erected a complete school system for Applied Science, from nursery school to postgraduate university education. Victims and their survivors would receive priority as students; all students would receive a scholarship stipend sufficient to guarantee their support, whether or not living with their families. The curriculum would be designed for education in modern life and equipped with the latest educational tools. Its aim would be to create a fully modern mentality in the young, a devotion to social work, and skills up to the limits of achievement of each student. Thus a child might enter in nursery school and complete his or her studies as a Doctor of Science and Technology, or might complete his schooling at any time along the way if his interests move in another direction, or if he cannot master the curriculum beyond a certain point. If qualified in other regards, a student changing field may attend another school with a full scholarship covering tuition and living expenses for the duration of his education.

In regard to community development, nothing less than a new city is contemplated, a city built several kilometers from the farthest limit of Bhopal by the victims and survivors, that is by the people of Bhopal to the maximum extent possible and giving the people of Bhopal a priority for transferring their residence to the new housing. The city would be built to house half a million people. The master idea employed in the new construction would be to abandon many useless traditional and modern western conceptions of housing and urban design, in favor of a design that would fulfill the needs and desires of the modern ordinary Indian with an average income. The land would be owned by the Foundation. The materials would be local, the heating solar, the electric and phone system modern and their lines buried in ground; a television cable would also be conveyed everywhere. There would be no place for private vehicles except at the town limits. The housing would be compact, with small gardens for each apartment (chickens and goats permitted). Space would be provided for public and religious construction, at the option of the surrounding residents. The city would be fireproof. There would be no elevators. And many other features that could only be supplied in a new city would be added and invented. The chief business of the new city would be modern arts and crafts, plus the building of other new cities profiting from the lessons learned here.

It would be proper to consider asking Union Carbide Corporation to set up the special corporation to build and manage the new city under control with the Foundation. Afterwards this special corporation might itself become a multinational company working not only in India but elsewhere, even in USA, to provide new cities at low costs where urban crowding has become serious and the existing cities so hopelessly out-moded and costly as to warrant their abandonment.

Settlements of this nature are practically unprecedented, and no one can be sure of its legality in American constitutional law. Tests of its legality would be sure to occur. The peculiar requirements of the case, rather than its universal importance, might persuade the American courts to take it up in the first place and then govern its complex solution.

Yet when one compares the legal and economic complexities of the Bhopal case with the recent breakup of the giant American telecommunications monopoly into dozens of elements, each with its own territory and or functions, each with its own property and rights, and each with special local laws to observe, and altogether with a hundred million customers to accommodate and please, all of this done through the courts, one can see that the American courts have an extraordinary confidence in their ability to confront and handle problems, no matter how great, once they feel they must accept jurisdiction.

The Indian government appears inclined to negotiate a settlement with Union Carbide. If the government does so it must then file suit in the U.S. courts parens patriae. The Courts must approve the settlements. In this case, the American lawyers will find their assignments of attorney for the victims annulled. Various sources estimate that a settlement in the area of $300 to $400 millions may be arrived at.

Such an action on the part of the Indian government may boomerang against the government itself. The government will be called upon to administer a monstrous and thankless process, lasting for many years. Even if the Indian bureaucracy were the world's best, it would be hard pressed to pull together the necessary social work, medical, legal, accounting, et al. personnel and we may be sure that accusations and scandal will beset such an agency administering to the subjectively framed wants of a quarter of a million, nay, a million, people. And how will this operation be decentralized to the state of Madhya Pradesh and City of Bhopal? A great confusion and waste may be expected. How will the government ever explain administrative costs that may ultimately reach those asked by some of the American "legal vultures," who, once they have done their work, will at least fly away, while the governments will be around forever.

Is it rational for the Indian government to take on the job of taking care of up to a million individual clients? And what will poor voters everywhere think when they, mistakenly, believe that the government is treating these victims of Bhopal like pampered children while they, the others, are just as poor, often as sick, and suffer all manner of industrial and pesticidal injuries? And will the government now take upon itself the task of representing in foreign courts the case of every Indian damaged by a foreign multinational or struck by a tourist's car, for that matter? If all these risks are nevertheless to be taken, it is suggested that the government immediately rid itself of most of these troublesome tasks by turning over the whole settlement to trusts, independent of the government, such as I have described here.

Still, one more grave consideration must enter the policy of the Indian government in this case. Whatever be the total of the settlement, it will be regarded as too little. It does not matter that all "reasonable men" believe $400 millions, say, to be a just and generous settlement (and I, for one, doubt this to be so). No matter what the figure, the settlement will be considered by the political opponents of the government and by a large part of the public to be a "sell-out" to U.S. interests.

Would a billion-dollar settlement be considered a sell-out? Who knows? But now we encounter hard realities. Union Carbide will not settle on so high a figure, unless it were to take to heart the philosophy of this book, which is doubtful. So Union Carbide will only settle for a figure too low for the Indian government to avoid risk of a political disaster in accepting it.

Actually, the Indian government -- city, state, and federal -- are not unassailable with regard to responsibility for the Bhopal situation. Rather than demanding compensation from the corporations, they ought to be considering their own liability, and, besides facilitating a settlement, might well be making a larger contribution as part of the settlement, taking a token part of the burden of liability off shoulders of Union Carbide.

Consider one point further: if Union Carbide survives and flourishes after a settlement with the Indian government, a great many people will believe that Union Carbide shrewdly outwitted the Indian leaders. If Union Carbide survives and flourishes under the conditions proposed in this book, Union Carbide will be received as a "reborn Christian" or, devout Hindus will say, "deservedly reincarnated to a higher level of existence."

Union Carbide may be in a situation similar to that of the Indian Government if it deals exclusively with the Government. A "bargain" settlement of under $400 millions will find the giant company accelerated on a path of long-term decline already noted by financial experts. Wherever it moves, whether in the USA or the Third World, it will be "taxed" for its record at Bhopal. Whatever the settlement, some of its financial advisers will regard it as too high : they would prefer preemptive bankruptcy anyhow. No amount of sheer public relations will promote the settlement to a stroke of genius and good luck.

Besides it is doubtful that Union Carbide can be assured that any settlement is final. Union Carbide can be charged in American and Indian courts on scores of counts. Who gives the Indian government the right under the American Constitution to deprive a man of his day in court? Who gives such a right to Union Carbide? The American lawyers are not fools. Some of them are among the best in the business of law.

Until the settlement is legally final, Union Carbide cannot expect its financial position to be any better than it is now -- precarious and uncertain. Before the legality of the settlement is fully determined, at least a year from the settlement date, much litigation will take place in attempts to disallow the agreement. The Indian government, in its majestic sovereignty, can decide to withdraw at any time from the agreement.

It will be of help in the resolution of the overall problem if the United States government were to participate as a friend of the court and as amicus curiae express an intention to assist the parties to move towards a just settlement. The USA already is implicated in the case in the eyes of the world; it must concern itself with the governance of multinational companies, whether they be American or foreign companies operating in the United States and elsewhere, too, in the world economy. In the event that sums of the settlement go beyond the dimensions outlined here, the difficulties experienced by Union Carbide, whether financial or politico-economic, may threaten an excellent arrangement. The U.S. government may then choose to contribute a sum to the Trust as compensation on its own account for its indirect responsibility, or lend money to or support a public or bank-loan for Union Carbide. Its help to the Chrysler Corporation, formerly in dire straits, may offer a precedent. This is no more and even less than the U.S. government is doing for debt-ridden governments around the world who are on the brink of bankruptcy. American diplomats will hardly fail to realize the improvement of their government's relations with India that would result from this friendly service.

A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp. 128-141

A Dynamic Memorial for Bhopal

There are lessons for the smallest child and the worldliest politician in the carnage of gas at Bhopal: "Help each other to do our work" and "Unify or Perish." Yet all the lessons of Bhopal will not live by words. The words must become operations.

A world safety manual in all languages should be prepared, whether for personal or industrial use. The axioms of safety should be taught to the child at the same age as one learns to read and write and name the continents of the globe. They should be part of a world culture. As one learns the rules of safety, one learns much about health practices, social welfare and how to work well.

A world organization of the industry and commerce of hazardous products is necessary at this time. The association should have oversight of safety education in and out of business. It should sponsor and direct worldwide a corps of auditors, consultants and inspectors, who can enter business premises anywhere that hazardous products are handled and whose advice and reports are thereafter monitored for compliance. They should be assisted by the full assembly of satellites and computerized communications and record-keeping. Hearings should be made available where business interests dispute the findings.

Sanctions of publicity, fines, suspension, expulsion, and civil or criminal court proceedings should be granted to the World Association of Hazardous Products Business.

The World Association should sponsor and establish a mutual insurance system among hazardous products business firms. The insurance premiums can be determined as a fraction of net worth, local risk factors, and company experience.

The World Association should seek to establish a situation worldwide such that no country where insufficient or unsafe conditions for safety are found to persist in law or in fact will be able to find a multinational company that will enter it on business; further, that no company going into a country will be allowed to pursue procedures banned by the Association. Thus to evade world standards would involve both a delinquent government and a delinquent company. In this case the Association will seek to prevent a delinquent company from emerging from its state to do business elsewhere.

The World Association should conduct research with the intention of substituting in every situation possible the use of non-toxic means of controlling pests, such as the use of pest-resistant varieties of seeds, using parasites for weed and insect control, introducing natural predators (plants as well as animals), pest-evasive timing of planting and harvesting, and fostering sterile male insect populations.

The World Association should monitor new biotechnological and mechanical progress and lend support to all efforts to make the newest technologies available to all countries on an equal basis regardless of their ability to pay. It may levy an assessment on its members to pay for extending the costs of new technology to the poorest countries or subventing the entrance into the country of a chosen new technology company. The World Association of Hazardous Products Business should house and provide research facilities and advice to groups engaged in monitoring and informing the world public of the hazardous activities of the multinational armaments industry.

The World Association should, whenever its activities impinge upon other types of industry and business, convene assemblies of these, replicating its own representative structure, with the idea of facilitating mutual interests and preparing for an early institution of a World Assembly of Transnational Business, whose mission would be to extend common standards of ethics, safety, compensation and working conditions everywhere.

These are some of the ideas that grew out of discussions of the writer with citizens of three continents concerning the Bhopal tragedy. The ideas need formulation at greater length. Thereupon, it is proposed that a World Congress on Safety in Commerce and Industry be convened to elaborate the ideas and enunciate insofar as possible a practical doctrine concerning them which would be promulgated worldwide. Representation at the Congress would be individual, independent, and non-governmental, with voting according to population proportions of geo-economic regions of the world.

It would be a fitting memorial to the victims of Bhopal to convene the Congress at the City of Bhopal on the First Anniversary of the tragedy, that is, at Midnight of December 2, 1985. The first order of business of the Congress would be to memorialize those who lost their lives and those who dedicated themselves to the care of the injured. Artists of the world would be asked to contribute their work to a museum on the themes of the tragedy and on world safety, peace and industrial progress. A Museum of Safety in Commerce and Industry at Bhopal would hold and exhibit the works of art and collect the historical documentation of the events. Proceedings of the Congress would be preserved there as well.

The Congress would also review and assess the progress made toward achieving justice for the Bhopal victims.
As its mottos, the Congress may adopt these:

"A Civilization qualifies as worthy to the degree that its poor enjoy a decent subsistence, a modern education, and
equal justice."

"Safety is the whole World's Business."
A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp. 154-157


When Union Carbide received a license from the Indian Government on October 31, 1975 to manufacture MIC, the government was pleased because of the relief this might afford to the foreign exchange losses implicit in importing MIC.

Around then, too, pesticides were cutting down Indian grain losses; then 25% of the crop, today's losses are 15% representing 15 million tons or enough to feed over 70 million people. Ten years later, in the wake of Bhopal, the Director of the United Nations Environment Program was saying of pesticides:

"Local regulations, inspections, monitoring, maintenance, training, education, siting, cultural differences, corporate responsibility and the transfer of technology must be reviewed directly and quickly. And it must be done with broad cooperation between governments and industry."

Large corporations operating across national boundaries do so by the consent of the nations within whose geographical limits they do their work. Their morality, their working ethics, are generally no worse and often better than those of corporations who work solely within the boundaries of the nation. Further their morality is usually no worse than that of the governments with which they deal.

The foreign corporations are licensed by the nation to operate, and the license usually betokens that they produce or bring in something that is especially desired and not adequately forthcoming from domestic corporations. For this they are usually given the privilege of taking money out of the country, this being usually their investments (or costs) plus their profits from the investments or sales. In this business, the bargains made between nations and foreign companies are sometimes better for one than the other.

If a nation already harbored corporations with the capital, resources, and skills of the foreign company, they would not let it come in, or the company would come in only on equal or worse terms than those governing domestic companies.

Nearly always, the admission of a foreign company implies or entails advantages to a nation other than those immediately obtainable in the form of production. New kinds of capital, the domestic economy, take root, and hopefully will flourish, whether directly in the field of operations or generally in the community, in years to come.
When conditions change, and what once worked to its advantage becomes onerous, a nation may have good reason and legal means for withdrawing a foreign company's licenses or increasing its obligations. A company may also withdraw from the bargain, with penalties often attached to the withdrawal.

When a foreign company withdraws from a national economy, whether voluntarily or coerced, the nation is either benefited or harmed with regards to the precise affected sector of the economy and the more extended effects referred to above.

Not surprisingly, a transnational corporation finds its operations helped or hindered by the political, economic and financial relations of its home country with its host country. Without specific fault, it can suffer from outbursts of nationalism or socialism or pacifism or religious fundamentalism, indeed, any aspect of the comportment of some or all of the political class of the host country that is or is deemed to be incompatible with its presence. To these can be added the tricky problems of fiscal transactions and legal complications. It is a sitting duck target. It is expected to behave better than local companies while at the same time it is suspected of being arrogant or know-it-all when it tries to behave better. Like the humble tourist, but with much less mobility, the multinational feels every day the variations in the economic and political weather.

Among the principal world problems, hazardous chemicals have rapidly come into prominence. Others include the
related problems of pollution of land and waters; exponential population growth; conventional war and nuclear armaments; and equal justice and human rights. The problems of famine and disease, though unspeakably prevalent, are the most susceptible to administrative action, so readily available are the means for their general elimination. The largest problems represent chemistry and chemical engineering in their historical and advanced stages, including "conventional" and nuclear explosives, and the armaments industry that deals in these.

Chemistry, it must be concluded, is inextricably bound up with every major problem pressing upon mankind, except the problem of justice and human rights, that is, the proper governance of the world. It is unfortunate that from among all the science and professions, chemists as a group stand out as the least educated in and conversant with questions of politics, while most great world problems involve chemistry. It is remarkable how little chemical knowledge was to be found at all levels and at all stages of action in the Bhopal crisis. One encounters salesmen, public relations men, police, ex-military officers, mechanical engineers, lawyers, professional politicians, journalists, professional administrators, accountants, stockbrokers, insurance agents, business promoters, agitators, and professors in law and political science; yet one only encounters chemists who are called in as experts, a role as disadvantageous as it may be narrowly prestigious. Chemists, then, are an exploited group, whose fate is caused by their self-induced blindness to the political world that they have helped greatly to create.
The viper that both poor and rich states nourish at their very bosoms is the armaments industry. This, too, is a creature of chemistry. It makes a nasty contrast with the ultimately legitimate and benign chemical industry. The armaments industry is extremely hazardous, largely multinational, riddled with corruption, enveloped in secrecy through most of its operations from conception to use, accompanied by blatant advertising whose public relations managers are the governments themselves, causing in fact an infinity of fatal accidents, capable of blowing mankind and his works and life itself off the face of the Earth.

It is well for all who are concerned about the peaceful uses of chemistry to bear this in mind. Armaments are the king of hazards, the breaker of poor backs, the exploiter of human recklessness, the pamperer of degraded officialdom, the privileged dealer in hazardous chemicals down to the last bullet.

Every discussion of every problem affecting every person and group in the world ought to begin by demanding: "Destroy the weapons!"

With this clarification of issues and priorities, our attention can return to the problems of the multinational corporation. Every corporation entering from a rich country into a poor country smacks of imperialism and colonialism. The resemblance between a foreign government and a foreign corporation taking over a position in the economy is close enough to stir up bitter memories and stimulate false sensations. The chastisement of a foreign corporation, in the same way, arouses proud memories of the expulsion of the foreigners.

Despite this, and the high risks that follow, multinationals still flourish by the many thousands, some with a single branch or affiliated corporation, others with many in many countries, some specializing in a single product, others producing a broad spectrum of goods. Also, the number of multi-nationals coming out of the Third World is increasing -- there are up to 10,000 of them, with India, South Korea, Hong-Kong, Argentina and Brazil as especially prolific sires.

A large part of the world's gross product of goods and services is an outgrowth of multinational activities and any country that tries to do without them jeopardizes its economy and lowers its technological level. Yet, in receiving multinationals, a poorer nation suffers pangs of colonialism, must endure the humiliation of being a "learner" instead of a "brahmin," undergoes a loss of traditional cultural and religious values, must make and keep serious far-reaching promises over many years, and needs to pay out hard currency that it has trouble collecting. If it is forced to get dollars by borrowing, then it falls into another set of complicated and frustrating relations with the international banks, which seem to be another form of the multinational corporation, even when these appear to be fully world-oriented such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

To resort to old-fashioned nationalism and parochialism reduces its economy and technology and merely makes a poor nation poorer and weaker, while to push ahead toward superior economic and technical levels at all costs raises its level of cultural frustration and disorganization without there being any world government to guarantee the future, to say "Come this way and we shall guarantee you permanently against the risks, frustrations, and failures on the way to the future world where you will enjoy all the equality and compensation you rightfully deserve."

The Bhopal disaster cannot but discourage investors in industry and commerce dealing with hazardous chemicals and encourage companies to sell of related interests. These trends are likely to occur whether or not heavy judgements or settlement costs occur with reference to Union Carbide for there is a gathering hysteria now over the government of the air, of the soil, of the water supplies; a mankind that has never learned reliably to govern the most ancient areas of life -- violence, human relations, production, population -- is entering upon new and exotic areas of rule.

What may happen, paradoxically, is that companies, whether of the West or of the Third World, that are less well equipped will plunge into such operations and that governments, too, will go more into such business, and this may not convey necessarily more safely managed enterprises and at best will bring heavily bureaucratized and high-cost production.

This last prospect -- heavier governmental participation -- may in some cases hinder worldwide agreement upon standards if governments jealous of their sovereignty refuse to lay their operations open to international inspection and to abide faithfully by worldwide rules.

In the likely event that Union Carbide pays unprecedented damages, all of the foregoing processes will be intensified and speeded up. Thus the widespread initial belief that industry and commerce worldwide will heed the fate of Union Carbide and tighten up safety practices is likely to be proven incorrect in the course of time.

The alternatives to such trends would be a true worldwide control of hazardous industries and/or the prompt substitution of new and possibly less effective, but less noxious, means of pest control everywhere. These latter solutions, or combinations of solutions, are much to be preferred to letting the world pesticide industry drift wherever it will in the aftermath of Bhopal. They run up against the sharp sentiments of neo-nationalism, the tawdry jewel of the impoverished, the poor imitation of the extravagant irresponsibility of the great powers.

We have already written of the "culture lag" accompanying high technology: Bhopal is a city most of whose people have responded to but are not possessed of an industrial culture. We can also speak of a cultural lag in the law of high technology. Just as it is negligent of a multinational corporation to set itself up to profit in a culture by equipment and procedures the culture cannot accommodate, so also it is negligent to establish itself in a legal setting where it makes its own law or benefits from an undeveloped and inadequate law. Negligent, true: still, the normal way of doing business domestically as well as internationally is often innocently and benevolently negligent. Either you are negligent or you do not do business at all, and if you do not, others will and be praised for not being arrogant, and you are depriving the culture of your technology and pushing the government against the financial wall with your hard currency exports of high technology products that the country must have, and you are wheedled and promised this and that until you accede. Whereupon eventually you become a foreigner, a public enemy.

This process has repeated itself time after time. I see no way out of its unless and until, first, a company calls upon the skills of the human sciences to acculturate its processes as they move into other cultures, as "part of the deal," introducing a full measure of innovations and education as it goes; then, secondly, that the company be part of a world movement of multinational companies to demand their own governance by world-wide rules, to demand a code of behavior under which they can live and work, where a consonance between a community's culture and the incoming technology is a serious requirement, clearly present in the minds of the corporation leaders and the government politicians and bureaucrats. An active world assembly and secretariat of multinationals, in which all functions are deliberately represented, the hazardous industries among them, should take a company by the hand as it goes into a different community setting, saying to the government: "See here, this is more than a deal; it is a serious engagement in which certain conditions of finance, production, acculturation, staffing, work, and safety have to be fulfilled along with whatever special deals and conditions you wish to make."

The ideal within a nation should become the world reality. Let me present an illustration. Following upon the Bhopal disaster, the Indian State of Tamil Nadu held up all authorizations for all chemical projects utilizing hazardous chemicals, and asked the Chemical Manufacturers' Association to report on outstanding questions, whereupon an expert team was named and reported within a month.

The report examined the Union Carbide plant of Bhopal, where hazardous chemicals, besides Methyl isocyanate, chlorine, carbon monoxide, phosgene, and methyl amine, were handled. It criticized the inadequate safety of the MIC storage tanks and the lack of medical knowledge of how to deal with the crisis. Then it recommends a number of measures:

The establishment of an independent central authority to lay down guidelines, classifications for the design of packages, shipping containers, tankers, and so on for all kinds of chemicals, with legal authority to force compliance.

  • The establishment of a central industrial safety and health authority to make safety rules and conduct research.
  • Setting up within every State of industrial response teams for cleaning up hazardous spills and related threats.
  • The organization by Chemical Manufacturers' Associations of emergency guidance centers on chemicals leakage and other hazards, and to report and circulate information and accident studies.
  • Increases in the pay and emoluments of industrial and safety inspectors to attract superior personnel.
  • The prompt publication and circulation of all laws and rules governing safety, health and industrial conditions. Data on toxic materials and hazards should be stored in computer data banks for ready accessibility.
  • Open licensing of all imported instruments and software for safety devices and computer systems, together with reduced customs duties.
  • Cooperation of trade unions in installing instrumentation and automatic control devices even when they result in manpower reductions.
  • A cordon sanitaire, enforced around all factories handling hazardous materials. Government help in financing relocations is recommended.
  • Government aid in financing safety systems and pollution controls.

Hardly any one of these recommendations can be disputed in principle. The question of who bears their financial burden arises. So also the question of finding personnel capable of administering all of the programs. Once again every bureaucracy and every government is committed to the notion that it can handle or must in any event take on every worthy program, whereas experience bluntly contradicts this notion. Once again, we revert to the educational system and the culture in general and assert that these are highly unlikely to be adequate for the tasks thrust upon their human products.

And once again we revert to the larger world where resources of education and technical experience are hoarded or bottled up. Some say of Bhopal, "it was unfortunate that the last American expert was withdrawn several years ago." That may be true: it is likely that no professional American of the chemical industry would have stood for the safety practices exhibited on all sides. It might be also that he would have received small sympathy from the U.S. side for being a troublemaker.

Several reasons explain the disappearance of the foreigner from the foreign-owned plant and one of these reasons might be sheer Indian chauvinism. Still whereas the presence of foreigners (in American as well as Indian plants) is usually beneficial and a safety measure too, it would be more generally beneficial if every government, not only Indian, could hire and use foreigners on the inspection and safety side. Officials would be horrified at the thought and quite mistaken; they need not worry, however, for the chauvinism that denies a foreigner any authority is accompanied by such poverty and miserable working conditions for the inspectorate that the turnover rate of high quality foreigners would be absurdly high.

In a state of 443,000 square kilometers, Madhya Pradesh, the government employs a score of inspectors, each of whom is assigned about 400 factories. Given 200 working days, an inspector, to complete his quota, must average to cover two factories per day, this traveling by slow bus and train. From the bus and train stops to the installation requires additional transportation, but local cabs are often unavailable or costly, and the factory management is requested to send a car. Once in the factory, only several hours in the larger factory can be afforded. If the inspection uncovers any problem, the slow wheels of government begin turning -- discussions, warnings, reports, follow-up, correspondence (no typewriters or secretarial help or private offices and little back-up clerical staff), and if a court case is decided upon (administrative rulings are only exceptionally allowed), a long delay and further efforts are entailed of the inspector; it is expectable that upcoming inspections will be perfunctory. Telephones are difficult to use in any casual continuous way to expedite business.

Inspection implies skills at inspecting something special; a know-how for a what. The two inspectors working from the Bhopal office were mechanical engineers, not chemical engineers. Inspection requires instruments, to test gauges, etc.; the inspectors had no instruments. The Labor Department inspected devices to protect worker safety, not gaseous emissions; the inspectors did call repeatedly at the Union Carbide plant after reports of mishaps and internal leaks, urging the company as a matter of course to pursue more faithfully its own procedures.
I shall not delve into the work of the Air and pollution Control Board of Madhya Pradesh, which with a small staff is supposed to inspect and discipline 200 larger and 90,000 smaller business, and municipal waste disposal as well; yet be Board has no power to issue orders "to cease and desist" harmful practices, but must go to court for this purpose. The Board did actually measure high levels of pollution surrounding the UC Bhopal plant, but remedial action did not occur.

Such problems of regulation are common in the developed areas of the world, in most of the world. The infrastructure of regulation is lacking. The costs of elevating the infrastructure to meet even present needs, much less future expectations of industrial growth, are more than can reasonably be provided in line with all other competing budget demands. In the end, under-regulation is inevitable.

What then? Abandon ideas of introducing new industry? Give up fine ideas of proper safety and working conditions? Add to the costs of doing business whether by taxes or assessments? Raise the price of the product? None of these solutions is appealing. Perhaps the most effective means of regulation would be the organization of the country's or world's business of a given category, such as pesticides, into a corporate national body and then a world body that will constitute itself to legislate appropriate safe conduct among all firms (whether privately or publicly owned). Then let this body assess its member units for insurance according to ordinary actuarial practice. As a condition of belonging to the world association, qualifying for insurance would be necessary, and in this case, inspection and regulation of a number of practices would go along with the insurance. Let the World Association conduct its own inspections, charging the cost to its annual budget with costs of problem cases thereafter charged to the company giving trouble.

In effect, a kind of world functional government would emerge, handling a large part of the burden today carried by national governments, or by no one at all. The multinational company goes beyond countries, but cannot govern well inside a country. The governments of the countries where they go are beset by and interested in domestic problems and can govern the international economic sphere only fitfully. They should be represented in, not govern, problem areas where their competences are admittedly limited. So a large place for functional self-government is foreseen in the new world economic order.
A Cloud Over Bhopal, pp. 158-169

Aftermath and Comment (1991)

When the Author of this book returned to the United States in the late Spring of 1985, he anticipated that Third World and environmental groups would have organized a strong pressure group to persuade the Union Carbide Corporation to settle generously the claims of the people of Bhopal. This had not occurred nor would it happen. There occurred a period of the filing of suits in various court jurisdictions on behalf of the victims by dozens of lawyers, acting each in the name of different individuals. Meetings were called by concerned environmental organizations, at which plans of action were devised. These proved to be pipe dreams or ineffectual. The Author urged, based on experience and theory, as expounded in his book Kalos, What Is To Be Done With Our World?, that direct political action and political pressures were the only means to force a just conclusion: his pleas went unheeded.

In the end, despite the depth of the tragedy and the well-intentioned efforts, it would appear that nothing could be done to move Union Carbide. The cases were consolidated from around the country in the United States District Court of Southern New York. There the numerous lawyers were grouped and ordered to speak through chosen delegates. But meanwhile the Indian Government had decided to sue on behalf of the people of Bhopal. In the face of both groups, the Court held that India was the proper jurisdictional home; there the American private attorneys were denied judicial standing, even if operating through Indian lawyers; Indian attorneys, too, were excluded.

A long period of negotiations and court proceedings ensued, with the Government of India and Union Carbide confronting one another. All of the suspiscions foreseen in this book appeared: the Indian Government was accused of taking away the rights of the victims, of settling the case behind closed doors; of making corrupt deals with Union Carbide; and so on. Union Carbide’s American officials refused to go to India to testify in the proceedings.

In October of 1991, the Indian Supreme Court upheld a settlement, which had been appealed from a lower court decision of 1989, under which Union Carbide had to pay $470 million in compensation of all claims. The sum was paid over, but was not distributed to the victims, who had been receiving minute sums and medical care now and then from the Government. Officials of Bhopal claimed that the dead from the accident numbered 4000 persons.

Union Carbide got the idea of selling its 50.9% share in Union Carbide India, Ltd., worth about $70 million, in order to build a hospital for the victims in Bhopal, but the Bhopal Court forbade any such transaction, declaring that the Company should use its own funds for the purpose; further, it seized all Indian assets of Union Carbide, for ignoring the subpoenas of the Court to send its officers to India.

The Supreme Court of India found defective an earlier court order foreclosing criminal suits against officers of the Company, and opened the door to fresh charges. Thereupon, the Bhopal Court issued an arrest warrant against the now grandiosely pensioned Chairman, Warren Anderson, on charges of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder.” Chief Judicial Magistrate Gulab Sharma, because the accused refused to appear, initiated an extradition order.

The process will take a long time, and the chances of Mr. Anderson ever being haled before the bar in India are remote. Still, the Author will probably be shown to have been correct in warning him in 1985 that, were he not to settle the Bhopal case generously, constructively, and amicably, he would live to regret it.

To purchase the book: A Cloud Over Bhopal

A Cloud over Bhopal by Alfred de Grazia

A Cloud over Bhopal

A Cloud over Bhopal by Alfred de Grazia

To purchase the book
A Cloud Over Bhopal
by Alfred de Grazia