“The media went after Lalit Modi, then A Raja, then Sharad Pawar and now they are after Bhopal. It will just pass,” said an official whose job it is to manage the perception about the government. He does not think Bhopal would have any long-lasting negative impact on the image of the UPA government.
Quarter of a century after the Bhopal tragedy, the collective conscience of India suddenly seems to have come alive. The fact is that, given India’s legal structure, this was the only possible conclusion of this case, in which the accused were charged with death due to negligence. The moral outrage is just that.
Indian Penal Code (IPC) 304A (causing death by a rash or negligent act) was applied when Salman Khan ran over people, the drunk wife of a colonel smashed her car into an auto and killed two last month in Delhi and yes, when roughly 15,000 were killed by a callous and greedy company. Mind you, if you were a teetotaller who has never jumped a red light in your life and by misfortune killed one in an accident, the same section would apply.
Two points, therefore:)
1) Driving under the influence of alcohol must attract higher punishment – imprisonment, fine and ban on driving for a certain period. If such drivers cause death, they should be charged with murder. Or at least, culpable homicide not amounting to murder. In fact, this was the charge against Salman Khan until the Mumbai high court dropped it.
2) Industrial disasters must lead to heavy fines on the company. Affected people must be compensated handsomely. The fear of the fine must be such on the companies that they would never think of a cost-cutting measure as Union Carbide in Bhopal, which was the direct cause of the disaster.
All these require new laws or modification of existing ones. After the current cacophony is over, the media and the civil society groups must try to take the debate to a more meaningful level.
Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the direction of the public discourse. The controversy over the nuclear liabilities bill is a pointer. India needs specific laws such as the nuclear liabilities bill to fix responsibilities and ensure immediate compensation to victims in the event of industrial accidents.