I am re-posting this write up. It was published in Dec 2009. It is relevant today more than ever. The Government of India has clearly mismanaged this national tragedy. This negligence of the Government is worse than that of Union Carbide!! But who cares?
It is 25th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy. One estimate says that over 50,000 people were affected or dead. The survivors are suffering the ill effects of the killer gas.
Twenty five years later people are complaining about inadequate compensation and it is not at all baseless claim. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister wants to make the site open to public as if it is a national monument! It will give them opportunity to snatch the limelight instead of solving suffering population’s problems.
What a sorry state of affairs!
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Let us look at what happened to 9/11 victims. Here is what The New York Times said on June 15, 2005 in their article ‘Calculating the Incalculable in the Aftermath of Sept. 11′:
In “What Is Life Worth?” Mr. Feinberg offers a valuable first-person account of the 9/11 compensation fund and its workings. He makes clear, for the first time, exactly how peculiar the law governing the fund was, and the enormous difficulties, ethical and practical, that resulted from its ambiguous language and hastily written guidelines.”Never before had a government offered individuals millions of dollars in tax-free compensation for a tragic loss,” Mr. Feinberg writes. “And never before had government funds been so unregulated. There was no earmarked congressional appropriation limiting the size of awards or constraining my discretion. My budget was unlimited; the payouts would be determined only by my personal judgment and experience.” In the end, Mr. Feinberg would award more than $7 billion to 5,560 victims and family members.The compensation fund was a strange blend of compassion and cold calculation. Washington’s lawmakers wanted to express, in dollars, the nation’s sense of outrage and grief. Thousands of innocent people had died on the front lines of a new war. But the government also wanted to head off an onslaught of personal injury lawsuits that could throw the airline industry into turmoil. The compensation fund was a giant bet, with public money, that most victims would forfeit their right to sue, and avoid the uncertainties of a court case, if offered the certainty of a reasonable award. It was up to Mr. Feinberg to make the bet pay off.It was not easy. Legal precedent offered little help because, as the book’s subtitle suggests, there had never been anything quite like the 9/11 fund. Mr. Feinberg, in casting about for useful guideposts, consulted the Bible. At one point he talked things over with a prominent rabbi, who offered sage counsel: sometimes life offers no easy answers. The wording of the statute put Mr. Feinberg in an ethically difficult position. By law, he was required to calibrate awards according to the financial worth of the deceased victim. Unavoidably, the special master, in carrying out the law, would appear to be making morally repugnant distinctions, telling the wife of a fireman, for example, that her husband was worth less than a stockbroker.Mr. Feinberg created his own ethical difficulties, too. The fund, in his mind, should be “compassionate and generous but not profligate.” Only those victims who received hospital treatment within 72 hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, and who received their injuries in the vicinity of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, could apply for compensation. “If we permitted Jersey City residents who inhaled the dust and debris to be eligible, we could anticipate millions of additional cases,” Mr. Feinberg writes.Spouses and children, but not parents, would be eligible for compensation. No money would be awarded for mental injury or emotional trauma. This, Mr. Feinberg says, was a tough call but a necessary one to head off a run on the United States Treasury. “I envisioned five million New Yorkers filing claims, as well as the millions of additional Americans and foreigners who watched the disaster unfold on television,” he writes. Heroism, even when well documented, would not entitle anyone to extra money. “My goal was to minimize distinctions among claimants, not maximize them,” Mr. Feinberg explains. “Heroism by all was presumed.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Feinberg took a lot of heat (especially in New York), even though he accepted no pay for his work. Outraged family members attacked him in public meetings. “I spit on you and your children,” a fireman’s widow shouted at him at one meeting. Some accused him of administering a program of hush-money payments. The fund, in this view, was intended to head off lawsuits that might lead to embarrassing revelations about the government’s failure to anticipate 9/11. A class-action lawsuit was filed by families of employees at Cantor Fitzgerald accusing Mr. Feinberg of arbitrarily shortchanging high-income victims. The suit was dismissed.
Some tough but quick actions are required of administrators and these were taken by Mr. Feinberg. We would like to see such things happen in India.
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PS: US Government created a fund for $ 7 Bn for paying compensation to victims/ their families in the 9/11 tragedy. Union Carbide paid peanuts just $ 470 Mn to victims of Bhopal tragedy! They were several times more in number!
Some lives are more important than others!!