By Asmita Basu
The US courts rejected the suit for compensation on the ground that it was difficult to collect evidence from India (!) (This was done under a principle called forum nonconviniens, which is too complicated to get into details). The civil case was therefore pursued in Indian courts. The State settled the case for a paltry USD 470 million instead of USD 33 billion that was initially sought. (This amount when divided amongst the victims translates to Rs 10/- that I had mentioned in my earlier post). This travesty was justified on the grounds that the criminal proceedings were kept pending (not that the State had an option, since criminal cases cannot be dropped after being filed). And today, after 26 long years, we see the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
The point that I am making is that putting the now senile Warren Andersen behind bars does not translate to any tangible gains for the victims. Nor do the predictably paltry sentences and penalties act as effective deterrents. On the other hand, shelling out compensation would have been a far better deterrent- witness the current reverberations among BP shareholders and owners. But sadly, the Bhopal war had been lost in 1989, when the civil case was settled.
The Bhopal gas leak litigation will go on, I don’t have much hope. At the cost of sounding facile, the lesson to be learnt is that compensation cannot be treated lightly. As I see it, the silver lining in the recent judgment and the resulting outcry is that State has decided (been compelled to??) to retain the supplier’s liability clause in the nuclear deal. Hope there’s no retracting from this one.