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INDIA – PVCHR director says: Bhopal ruling, “symbol” of decayed justice

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Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of FORUM-ASIA member PVCHR, speaks of a “black day” for the survivors of the tragedy. Sentence to two years in prison for the defendants – already free on bail – shows the shortcomings of a system that is “powerless before international elite”. The Madhya Pradesh government announces an appeal.

New Delhi – ” It is the black day for survivors of Bhopal tragedy.  It is not rule of law, but a smokescreen after more than two decades of  impunity “as well as a ” justice in a deficient democracy”.  This is the harsh reaction of Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the Indian Commission for Human Rights (Pvchr) and Gwanju prize winner (the “Asian Nobel”) in 2007, on the recent ruling of the city court which sentenced eight people over the 1984 Union Carbide disaster. For the huge spill of cyanide gas, which caused more than 15 thousand dead and 600 thousand intoxicated, the judges issued sentences of two years imprisonment and a fine of 100 thousand rupees (about 1700 Euros). According to the activist, the ruling – which has sparked protests from relatives of the victims – “is a far bigger disaster”.

Meanwhile, the government of Madhya Pradesh has decided to appeal against the sentence, which has sparked protests around the world.  The move was announced today by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan , who added that : The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the majority party in the state, will form a committee to study the legal aspects before submitting the application”.

Minister of Justice, Veerappa Moily, has also spoken out on the case which he said is “not closed yet.” He points out that Warren Anderson, head of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster, must meet the charges against them. An official of the U.S. government, however, hoped that the ruling would be the final word on the issue.

Lenin Raghuvanshi talks of “a reversal” of justice: “what could be more subversive – he asks – than a sentence of two years’ prison for those responsible for deaths of over 15 thousand people” and the “very serious damage to health than half a million inhabitants “of the area affected by the poisonous gas. He adds that the defendants, except one who is sick, “were released on bail two hours after the guilty verdict”.  Adding insult to injury, the fact that Warren Anderson “has never appeared before a court”.

The ” Asian Nobel Prize Winner ” states that “the verdict has rightly shocked the people not only in India but worldwide.” He adds, “The verdict is a textbook case of studying all that ails the Indian judicial system. It is a classic case proving the oft-cited aphorism of justice delayed is justice denied. Further, the whole trial and the hearing is a classic case of how the prosecution sides with the guilty instead of helping the victims”.

In some parts of India including Manipur, Jammu-Kashmir, scene of riots and conflicts, the central government encourages the involvement of army and paramilitary units, covering violations and abuses of democratic rights, “in the name of law and ‘order’. “The only thing that changes in the case of Bhopal – adds Lenin Raghuvanshi – is the modus operandi. Instead of supporting the real criminals, the state helps them through acts of omission “.

The most striking case regards Warren Anderson, the then chairman of Union Carbide Corporation in the United States, who has become a fugitive in order not to appear in court. “It’s frustrating that no measures are being taken  – the activist points out – against the multinational company. This shows that the law can do nothing in the face of powerful international elites. ” The court, however, should have “established strict rules of industrial safety and responsibility of corporation”.

Lenin Raghuvanshi draws a bitter conclusion that encompasses the entire model of Indian democracy: ” The verdict proves, almost conclusively, that India is a failing, if not already failed state. That far from being the biggest democracy of the world, it, in fact, is nothing more than a banana republic. That it is a country where murderers of ordinary citizen, whether in Manipur or Madhya Pradesh, can go scot free”.  India is a State, the activist concluded, “that protects the interests of corporations, at the price of the common people.”  (Source: Asia News, 9 June 2010)