Home > Law and governance, Politics > Bhopal : boycott the guilty!

Bhopal : boycott the guilty!

Now that all the culprits in the Bhopal gas tragedy have been found guilty and sentenced to the maximum permissible TWO years in jail — suspended while they are out on a bail of Rs. 25000 each, everyone seems to be busy blaming someone or another, for the triviality of the sentence, for the failure to bring a conviction under steeper charges, for not having stronger laws, for not arranging for bigger compensations, and everything else.

Reading all that, I had a few thoughts of my own. One of them is that it is not a good idea to have a separate law for each and every situation, so we should try to make the best use of whatever laws we have, rather than make up new ones to fit a future Bhopal. Secondly, it is a good idea to have laws which can err in favour of the accused, because it is better to let the guilty walk free than to punish the innocent. Nor is it a good idea to increase the severity of punishment under each and every law whenever someone appears to walk away with no more than a rap on the wrist, because then in most cases people will end up getting punished far beyond what they deserve. While the guilty in the original case get to keep the sentence they originally received.

But this is a democracy, and we the people have some say, at least in some things. I do not favour using that say to overturn existing laws and make new ones at the drop of a hat, as I said above, but there are other things that we can do. We can identify the real culprits — not that it would bring back the dead or cure the blind and the maimed — but we can figure out who should have paid a proper compensation for the lives their greed and negligence ruined. As a first approximation, these are Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals (who now own Union Carbide), Mahindra & Mahindra (whose then owner Keshub Mahindra was also the CEO — or do I mean Indian owner? — of Union Carbide India), and possibly Eveready and Exide, which brands were owned by UC, or they owned UC afterwards, in some convenient book-swapping process.

Anyway, some digging should bring out which are the companies who should have paid compensation to those affected by Bhopal. And also to what extent each owned the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Then can we boycott these companies? It need not be done overnight, it is not necessary to start by making a complete list of things to be boycotted, but we can start from any brand owned by Dow or  Mahindra.

I would also like to see a law that any company, which abrogates its responsibility in situations similar to (but hopefully on a smaller scale in future) Bhopal’s, will also lose any right to its intellectual property in this country. This could be linked with how quickly compensation is disbursed, and how much. I have a feeling that such a law will achieve much more, and more quickly, than any reworking of present laws to increase the quantum of punishment.

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