Ethical Issues in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Essay by xiaochee October 2006

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In 1985 the Indian government enacted the Bhopal Claims Act and took away from victims the right to represent them and vested itself with the exclusive right to represent victims. In return for a modest and arbitrarily determined financial payment to victims, the settlement bestowed sweeping civil and criminal immunity on UCC, trading off its legal liability, excluding the victims of the disaster from shaping the end of the case. This also gave them the power to appoint a welfare commissioner and other staff who would control the distribution of compensation. Later, using this act, the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Scheme emerged, which further controlled registration, processing and future compensation.

The payment of compensation to victims did not, however, begin until 1992 and involved numerous problems, including payment of inadequate sums, delayed payments, arbitrary rejection or downgrading of claims. Excessive bureaucracy in the claims process led to the entry of middlemen and rampant corruption, further reducing the amount of compensation money that victims were able to finally get.

Finally, the Union Carbide eventually settled out of court for $470 million, thereby denying any legal liability. To reciprocate, the Indian Supreme Court provided immunity from any future prosecution. Their official reasoning for accepting this offer centered on providing relief as quickly as possible for the victims, who had been waiting for compensation for over seven years. Critics of the government have commented that the officials further delayed in making reparations after the settlement had been resolved.

Thousands of people in Bhopal were denied their right to life, and tens of thousands of people have had their right to health undermined. Those struggling for justice and the right to a remedy in Bhopal have been frustrated in their efforts. Thousands of poor families have suffered illness and bereavement, further impairing their ability...