Sunday, July 4, 2010

26 years later ‘Killer’ of Bhopal walks free...

Bhopal is now synonymous with industrial disaster. The city which is located 700 Kilometers south of the Indian capital New Delhi died in its sleep 26 years ago. As the final judgment in the longest of cases pending in the Indian courts was being delivered, the chief culprit of the catastrophe enjoyed a retired life somewhere in the USA

Aditya Raj Kaul, the India Editor of The Indian analyses the causes of the real tragedy of injustice and asks “Has the judgment served its purpose?”

During the early hours of December 3rd 1984 the world's worst industrial accident unfolded at the American-owned Union Carbide Pesticide Plant almost 5Kms from the Indian city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Poisonous gas escaped from a chemical plant due to negligence killing 3,000 people, according to official estimates. Non Government agencies claim the figure to be above 15,000. Around 50,000 suffered permanent disabilities, and more died later. The casualty increased as many people lived in shanty towns built alongside the factory and thousands more lived nearby in the old city. A worker cleaning out pipes with water sparked the disaster, say investigators. He was the first one to die though. After a legal agreement the firm provided victims with compensation averaging $500 (£300).

26 years later, all hope for justice has been crushed with the eagerly awaited verdict in the case pronounced by the local court in Bhopal. The court convicted seven ex-employees, including the former chairman of UCIL of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law. An eighth former employee was also convicted but had died before judgment was passed. All those convicted walked free immediately after the verdict after submitting bail bonds. 

The court however failed to nail Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster. In November 2002 Indian Government had said it was seeking the extradition of former Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson from the US. Despite repeated attempts there was no success. Anderson faces charges of "culpable homicide" for cost-cutting at the plant which is alleged to have compromised safety standards. Union Carbide accepted "moral responsibility" for the disaster. It later blamed sabotage by a disgruntled worker. 

Since the sentencing, while the streets of Bhopal have been jammed with protesters angered by the verdict; the news discussions have leaders of the ruling Congress Government passing the buck on Judiciary. In reality, the Government of India and the Judiciary both have shown no urgency to expedite the Bhopal case and the process of justice for that abominable negligence of December 1984. 

Rights groups however allege a larger political nexus as the reason of injustice. “In 2007, Right to Information (RTI) documents unearthed by activists revealed the nexus between the Prime Minister Office and Dow Chemicals. Home Minister Chidamabaram and Kamal Nath whom the documents revealed as advocating in favour of Dow are now made members of a Group of Ministers on Bhopal. Another addition to the reconstituted GoM is environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who had recently declared there there is nothing toxic about toxics in Bhopal” said Kaveri Rajaraman, a civil rights activist.

The tragedy could have been averted. It need never have happened if the warnings of one man, journalist Rajkumar Keswani, had been heard. In September 1982, after al­most nine months of study - following a phosgene leak in late 1981 which reportedly kill­ed one and injured three others - Keswani wrote an article in Rapat to the effect that the whole city could be wiped out if certain precautions were not taken. He entitled his article, which attracted the attention only of those powerless to act, "Please Save This City."

"The Union Carbide officials were not prepared to speak to me at the time, but I managed to get hold of some documents from inside. It was apparent that the poten­tially lethal materials were being handled in an unsatisfac­tory way, and the apparent cost-cutting programmes being undertaken by the management alarmed me." Two weeks later, in early October, Keswani pub­lished a second article entitled, "Bhopal: Sitting on top of a Volcano." In this piece, Keswani chronicled the plant's history of accidents since its 1980 opening.
Four days after publication of his second article, there was a leak at the plant. "Nobody died, but a few were injured by the gas, and many more were forced to flee," said Keswani.

Keswani later petitioned the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister. He met no success. As on date, Keswani still finds it difficult to work for very long at a stretch. He won several awards for outstanding journalism, but was cornered by the power centre and his campaign to save Bhopal went unheard.

As of today 390 tons of toxic chemicals abandoned at the UCIL plant continues to leak and pollute the city of Bhopal risking the lives of millions of its residents. Up to 500,000 survivors still suffer symptoms such as paralysis, partial blindness and impaired immune systems.

The memories of that early-hours assault on the senses will never fade. The world seems to have forgotten it; while India seems to have failed Bhopal after a long wait in hope.

Bhopal however hasn’t stopped. The protests and cries demanding justice block the city noise. “We won’t end it here. It might take 15 to 20 more years but our fight will be lead to its logical conclusion” said 65 year old Kamla Devi who has been blind ever since the disaster. 

“We have seen the worst. We fear nothing”, she further said.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tibetans in exile say, “Thank You India” at 50!

Tibetans-in-exile living in various settlements across northern India are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama’s arrival in Dharmasala town.

Aditya Raj Kaul, the India Editor of The Indian went exploring Dharamsala and interacted with the locals and the Tibetan administration to know the insight of the campaign ‘Free Tibet’.

On 10 March 1959 Tibet’s national uprising began but it ended with many Tibetans escaping into exile. Fifty years later, to mark the occasion, the Central Tibetan Administration organized a two-day event “Thank You India” from April 30 to May 01, to express the Tibetan people’s gratitude to the people and the government of India.

One of the first actions that His Holiness the Dalai Lama took when he escaped to India was to reconstitute the government of Tibet. On April 29, 1959, he established the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which has been located in Dharamsala, India since May 1960. Dharamsala is a city in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. Unique to the Tibetan exile government is the Dalai Lama’s leadership in transitioning to a democratic form of governance.

With the Dalai Lama as the head of state, the CTA consists of the Kashag, or Council of Ministers, headed by the Kalon Tripa, and the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, 43 members of which are democratically elected and 3 of which are appointed by the Dalai Lama. The Kalon Tripa is directly elected for a term of five years by members of the exile Tibetan community. The CTA governs according to The Charter of the Tibetans in Exile and includes an independent judiciary, the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission.

The CTA Departments of Religion and Culture, Health, Home, Education, Finance Security, and Information and International Relations are responsible for the rehabilitation of newly arrived refugees, sustaining a cohesive and self-reliant exile community, managing the CTA’s international affairs and fostering political, human rights and environmental consciousness among the Tibetans.

The exile government has offices in eleven countries around the world namely Brussels, Canberra, Geneva, Kathmandu, London, Moscow, New Delhi, New York, Pretoria, Taipei, and Tokyo.

In their 50 years of exile, Tibetans have produced a healthy, flourishing democracy focused on both day-to-day community administration and political action for Tibet.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama says the Tibetan exile movement must press forward with its talks with the Chinese government despite years of negotiations that have resulted in almost no progress. He has been living in Dharamsala since fleeing Tibet more than five decades ago. Dalai Lama was awarded the Noble prize for peace in Oslo, Norway on the occasion of World Human Rights Day, 10th December, 1989.

Beyond the official institutions, many individual Tibetans are helping to forge 21st century Tibetan culture. Poets, contemporary artists, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, and rock-and-roll musicians work alongside traditional artisans to jointly celebrate and create Tibetan culture and identity in exile.

Tibetan cultural traditions are flourishing in exile. From dance to language, music to textiles, art to poetry, architecture to woodworking, Tibetan refugees have successfully preserved many cultural practices, revitalized and refined others, and integrated new ideas and technologies into their cultural repertoire.

The Tibet Museum was established in Dharamsala in 1998 to archive photographs and the life stories of the Tibetan people, present Tibet’s modern history, and strengthen Tibetan identity through various educational programs and special exhibitions.

In Nepal, Tibetan refugees established carpet factories in the 1960s to promote the Tibetan art of weaving and to become economically self-sufficient. By the mid-1980s the carpet factories provided jobs to millions in Nepal and the export of Tibetan carpets became the highest source of income from foreign currencies for the refugees.

Today thousands of Tibetan exiles are settled in Dharamsala and most of them live in the upper Dharamsala called McLeodganj, where they have built monasteries, temples and schools. McLeodganj is also popularly called ‘Little Lhasa’ after the name of Tibetan capital city. McLeod Ganj was named after Sir David McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, while the suffix Ganj is common Hindi word for ‘neighborhood’.

One of the most haunting claims by the Tibetans is that – China’s efforts to control Tibet entailed mass-scale physical destruction combined with policies aimed at erasing Tibetan culture, religion and ultimately its identity. According to them, the exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources, massive deforestation and unchecked hunting has severely damaged Tibet’s fragile ecosystem. Shockingly, they say, parts of Tibet are used as nuclear test sites and dumping grounds for nuclear waste.

At present there are about 1, 30,000 Tibetans in exile. Most of them live in India, Nepal and Bhutan, with smaller communities in the USA, Switzerland, Canada and others western countries.

Recently, at the Kalchakra Mandala ritual in the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, a 55 year old women who had traveled from all across Tiben, said while flicking prayer beads through her fingers, “In Tibet, people are eager to see the Dalai Lama. I am lucky to be here today.”

Though teary eyed, she concludes, “I don’t know what will happen to us after Dalai Lama is no more. We will be directionless, left with crisis of existence’.

Many believe that when the fourteenth Dalai Lama dies the Chinese will choose their own reincarnation. They see the case of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second highest-ranking religious figure, as a prologue. In 1995 the Dalai Lama recognized a 6-year-old boy in Tibet as the successor to the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989.

China detained the boy and chose another in his place. The Dalai Lama’s choice and his family have not been seen since. The Dalai Lama has said that to avoid such a situation his reincarnation will be born outside Tibet.

But Tibetans in exile say they must eventually face the future after the Dalai Lama’s death. Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, a group that advocates direct action for Tibetan independence, tells members of his group to prepare for that time.

“I believe Tibet will be free one day. It may take 500 years, 1,000 years. We may not see it in our lifetime,” he said. “One thing we have to face in our lifetime is the time after His Holiness.” 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Old Man from Mcleodganj

Alone, gazing at the endless street, he stood at the fork besides a pole. With a light-grey English cap over his head, he slanted his face at a peculiar angle. The market cries or the tourist rush didn’t bother this old man. His aged body bowed to the gravity but the walking stick kept it firm. Perhaps it wasn’t the wooden stick, but the resolve to keep going on.

The shining thick white beard attracted the passer by. I was at the Village Café on the roof top when I noticed his presence far down the street at the intersection. As I ran closer to the verandah of the cafe to frame a picture on my lens, he raced on the street towards the Nowrojee General Merchants shop. The fraction of a second was enough for him to get going towards his destination.

He gave me a glance, perhaps for the frame which i managed to fix, and as I clicked... he walked away.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Commonwealth Games to be a grand spectacle – Dr. M.S. Gill

Over fifteen thousand people from around the globe will participate in the 19th Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in New Delhi from 3 – 14 October 2010. Estimated as the most expensive and lavish, the organizing team has been under tremendous pressure since the last few months to meet the deadline. 

Aditya Raj Kaul interacted with the man who is going to shape this into reality – Dr. M.S. Gill, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister of India at the Inauguration of the largest Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium at New Delhi. 


1) The Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010 in New Delhi is merely five months away from now. How prepared is the country to face this mega event after decades?

Few days back we were at the Thyagraaj Stadium and that was remarkable. We have the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium being opened as we talk. Apart from being an air-conditioned Indoor stadium, it also has a remarkably done up roof. The seating capacity is of about fifteen to twenty thousand. The colours are vibrant. We can include all sorts of games here, like gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, wrestling and Judo. You name it and we are capable of it. People of our country will remember the infrastructure well after the Commonwealth Games are over.

2) The media and even Commonwealth Games International Committee, which came to monitor the progress, said that the authorities are running slow on constructions. Is there a challenge to meet the deadline?

I hope the press has little more faith and confidence in the possibility that Indians can do it. Every other week we are inaugurating and bring forth a new stadium. And I am certain we’ll be ready in good time.

I agree if things would have been different we could have achieved this much before. We should have been prepared well in advance, a year and half back perhaps. But we’ll be ready now.

I am satisfied that the work is going smoothly, and there are no technical difficulties being faced. Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium which will host both the opening and closing ceremonies of Commonwealth Games will be ready by June.

Of course, there are challenges. We have a great facility, but important is to look after it, to make sure it looks same as it does today, not just for 15 days of the Commonwealth Games but forever. These are things we have to think about. But if India can build this, they can also think and work out.

3) It is estimated that the upcoming CWG is the most expensive ever after the last CWG at Melbourne in 2006. What is the total budget and are we going to see world class facilities which are going to permanently shape up the city for good? What kind of facilities would these be?

US$ 1.6 billion is  to be the total budget estimated for hosting the 19th Commonwealth.

Security is a big concern for us. We have spent Rs.350 crores on CCTV Cameras that will be installed all across the city. We do not want to leave any stone unturned as far as security is concerned. The recent Hockey World cup and the Commonwealth shooting, archery and boxing championships have provided opportunities to have a test run of security.

I have been personally visiting every now and then stadiums and other construction sites all over the city. I have also traveled worldwide in my lifetime. Frankly, there is nothing like this in London, Melbourne or going to be in Glasgow. I am not exaggerating. The Commonwealth Games truly have been far more modest than what Delhi is going to show. This will be proven to the world. The CWG President himself has said this more than once in the past. The Dhyaanchand hockey stadium is the world best and the shooting range has lavish facility and a background of a prominent city fort Tuglaquabad. I have even been to Beijing and went to Mexico long ago when they had the Olympics, nothing like this was there. Each of this is going to surprise the world. These are being built with much larger standard than the Commonwealth games.

4) How important are these games for India as the emphasis is most often given to Cricket?

India is very confident. India is young India. Everybody knows who reads economic writings in the press that we have the largest percentage of young people in the world, barring none. Even China has less, Japan is totally aged. Europe, America and the white world is aged. This is all for the young population of India. I think young India has to come forward and look after it.

5) Everyone is expecting a grand function to celebrate the arrival of CWG in India as the Queen’s baton reaches Sydney on 19th April by the local Indian community. Any message for the Indian Community in Australia?

I wholeheartedly wish them luck for the event. At the same time I ask them to be the ambassadors of our country and invite people for the opening ceremony on the 3rd of October where we’ll have an extravaganza which will be remembered for times to come.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Jihadi behind the Innocence - Free Press Journal (Weekend Edition)

Aditya Raj Kaul wonders how long would it take the Taliban to conquer Kashmir if Indian troops were withdrawn?

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the oth erwise innocent looking face in the midst of travellers thronging Mumbai, turned out to be the unforgettable symbol of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Sentenced to death, the verdict is being termed as a conclusion to one of the fastest trials' in a terror case in India; but the evil root of 'Jihadi terrorism' continues to flourish not so far from the country.

Pakistan's history of using Kalashnikovs and attacks such as these to terrorise and enforce its right on Jammu and Kashmir has taken a toll now on the entire country.

Almost two decades ago, Pakistan gave arms training to Kashmiri Muslim youth who crossed over to POK. Today not just J&K, but all major cities in India are under terror radar of sleeper cells killing people out of 'lust for blood'.

Unfortunately, over the years the communal turned pseudo-secular Kashmiri separatists grab the headlines while the plight of the innocent terror victims remains a non-issue. It isn't the so-called Azadi that the people of Kashmir desire. They long for an immediate crackdown on terrorists, an end to the separatist elements and those unbearable puppets in the Valley all for normalcy to return and development of the state.

Though sidelined for now, the political patronage they enjoy could soon take the voices from the Hurriyat and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) spreading propaganda of terror and hatred to the frontlines of politics.

Ambassador Harriet Winsar Isom former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan quoted recently through a study by an NGO that 3/4th of people in Pakistan of all shades and grades believe that they first are Muslims and only second feel as Pakistanis. She further observed that this makes it easy for the Islamic organisa tions involved in hard-line terrorist and Jihadi activities in Pakistan to attract the support on all levels. We all know how Muslims have been recruited from various parts of Islamic World to be trained and transported to Afghanistan and Kashmir as non-state actors but with a covert support of established Pakistani Institutions like ISI and Military.

Now that it has started biting Pakistan, they are now crying foul against these players in a new brand name of nonstate actors (a crude lie) and Pakistan is attempting to wash their hands off this murky trade. Pakistan brands them as foreign terrorists beyond their control. Can a civilised society and world accept such lame excuses? Ambassador Isom's words find echo in the recent arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a 30year-old naturalised citizen of Pakistani descent and his reported confession that he planned the failed bombing at Times Square, New York. The world should take note, and hard look at the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is emerging as the new and sinister face of global Islamist jihad and its links with Jamaat-udDawa.

Bomb blasts on the streets of Pakistan are as common as encounters in the Kashmir valley today. Ambassador G. Parthasarthy, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan believes it isn't hidden anymore that the democratically elected government of Pakistan has much lesser role in decision making on India as compared to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi.

General Kayani's long-standing links with terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba from his days, as the Commander of the 12th Infantry Division in Murree over a decade ago cannot be easily ignored. Moreover, he has recorded to have described Afghan Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, who masterminded two terrorist attacks on our Embassy in Kabul, as a "strategic asset".

It is understandable that India is under pressure from United States for talks with Pakistan and as well troop reduction from terrorism infected Kashmir. The pertinent question is How long would it take the Taliban to conquer Kashmir if Indian troops were withdrawn?

At the same time it is opening the channels of communication to demonstrate to the world its openness to peace while the constant rigidity from the other side; even though India has miserably failed to capitalise on this opportunity. Little purpose is served while talking to civilian leadership of Pakistan when in reality it has no control over the 'cross-border terrorism'.

The need of the hour is for Pakistan to establish its sincerity. It has to stop living in this denial mode for things to move further in a positive direction. Peace cannot be achieved merely by civil society debates, media campaigns and ignorance towards the 'root cause'. The need of the hour is a world-wide diplomatic offensive by India to expose the direct involvement of Pakistan in terror operations and its abatement to violence. India has to demand vocally for Pakistan to dismantle its infrastructure of terrorism before the dialogue process can be taken ahead, if at all.

While India celebrates the conviction, matters haven't been resolved as Kasab's masters across the border ponder over recreating more such merciless massacres. In February 1984, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) terrorist Maqbool Bhat was hanged after his clemency petition was quickly forwarded through the Indira Gandhi Government and rejected by the President of India. The state back then showed its tough stance against the terror machinery. The unanswered question today after the death penalty pronounced on Kasab is that when actually will we see justice delivered on ground. Will Kasab meet his fate soon or will he survive on Indian Governments mercy, just as the way Afzal Guru, the architect of the Indian Parliament attack continues to stay all these years?

The Government of India perhaps needs to dwell into the statecraft of the great philosopher Chanakya in this 21st century and be motivated to act as was Chandragupta Maurya by Arthashastra.

Kashmir born Aditya Raj Kaul, is the India Editor of 'The Indian' newspaper pub lished from Sydney, Australia

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Withered dream

The road doesn’t seem to end. I am moving ahead and further more. The dividing wall on the middle of this path moves all along as my sole companion. It isn’t dark still though the evening is near. The street lights are lit in advance. Not that they were shut during the day!

As a set of crammed images moving in rotation in front of my eyes, I observe the people on the sidewalks. Tired faces waiting at the bus stop. A group of ladies cross the road at the zebra crossing. They must have been in a rush to go home out of this maddening crowd of vehicles. To meet their loved ones, spend moment of joy and call it a day.

At the red light, beggars trying to cry for a penny or two. An obstinate driver of a Mercedes closing the window of his car in sheer repugnance. On another window, a girl with a hand on the wheel trying to text a message with another. There is perfection in her multitasking. Her eyes focused on the traffic light signal to turn green. With a smile she leaves the next minute. Perhaps an - I love you from her beloved.

I move on with someone in my mind. The sky turns cloudy. There is some uninvited rain on my windscreen. I reach my destination drenched with thoughts, of the road gone past, and the one which lies ahead of me. I search my bookshelf to break apart. Yet no solace!

Perhaps in the vein of a withered dream I give up.

Monday, February 15, 2010

September Rain

Rain hasn’t been too kind lately. Dark clouds fill up the evening sky only to disappear within minutes. A sudden cold breeze crosses with some hope of respite. No rain drops even an hour later. The chill in the air stays on till late.

Showers are thing of the past.

There were times when standing on a bus stop on busy Ring road amidst heavy crowd, rain would splash without a signal of caution. Sheer joy it used to be. Two-wheelers would struggle for space along with those waiting for the DTC and the Blue Lines.

And there were times when finding a Rickshaw used to be a pain in this rain at the Delhi University. Sorry, North Campus! With no ricky-man visible, students in hordes used to walk up to the Mall Road. 

India Gate and Dilli Haat became a meeting point for rain lovers. Perhaps it still does, for lovers alone though!

Noise isn’t meant for a writer. He, who writes, wanders for silence. The beautiful sound of rain is blessing for a writer, or someone who wishes the ink to flow.

At the café on that September evening, rain took us by surprise. With no transport, we started on foot. The water flooded the street. Our trousers at knee length and an umbrella in hand the journey began.

Our hands tied together, and clothes soaked with rain water. We crossed traffic snarls speeding against rain.

Halfway through, our eyes met. There was silence. Smiling faces stared each other.

Minutes passed. I was left alone with a beautiful fragrance. Rain vanished; water clogged on the street remained.

People tell me it has rained much more than ever before this season.

Perhaps just the time never returned. I tried to reach you. Memories remained.

September Rain.