The cloud over Bhopal forces everyone to consider a question as old as history and philosophy : what is a person worth? The issue is very much alive in multinational circles in the world, where philosophers are rare, and will become ever more important. Ordinarily, within a given jurisdiction where one party harms another, people accept a traditional and evolving standard as to what is required to make an injured person whole again. The answer finally given to this question of making a person whole in the Bhopal situation will forever judge the judges. And judge the parties. And judge the two countries, India and the United States. And judge the state of contemporary civilization. I will say here that not only can the victims be made whole but they can even achieve a potential beyond what the past could offer them.
We must praise the leadership of Union Carbide. USA and India, for not once, in their anxiety, fright and guilt, making invidious distinctions between Indians and Americans. Such invidious distinctions may be implied from their actions of the past and present, but until now they have not resorted to degrading contrasts of relative worth such as must have quickly occurred to millions of persons attentive to the disaster in the USA, India, and the world. Probably, like other enlightened decent men and women of our age, they abhor the colonialist and racist attitudes practiced by or submitted to by our forefathers.
When a person dwells in one country and is damaged by the citizen of another country, is the damage to be weighed on the scales of the injured or the injurer? Or on both scales with a division of the difference? In the absence of principle, each party seeks to maximize his own interest, using every instrument he can command -- opinions, police, courts, law, connections, political and financial dependents and allies. Still, even in such cases, the advocacy of principle occurs, and with the addition of all elements and parties whose interests are not identical with the first parties, the determination and advocacy of principle may even become paramount in importance.
To what damages ought the hoped-for, agreed-upon principles apply? Who has been damaged in what regard? First of all, there are deaths by gassing and the complications and incidents thereof, to the number which we estimate and assume here at 3,000, and which will ultimately be arrived at by testimony of the surviving. In the absence of data, we shall assume that the dead averaged four dependents or close kin who survived. Probably 90% of all Indians work for "gain" from childhood to death. These must be provided for. A second category of persons damaged is the injured. By this time, one must appreciate that death and injury by MIC poisoning is especially painful and anguishing; dying is almost always prolonged to minutes, hours, and days; the illness, with the same harsh symptoms and suffering, is usually more prolonged and may, it now appears, extend over years of time and until death.
The injured should properly be divided into the disabled and the affected. We can assume that 10,000 persons suffer from half-disability plus a high risk of premature death. Disability occurs in several forms : in lung injury, vision impairment, muscular weakness and neurological disorders, with others, such as heart and liver problems, emerging. Some 20,000 persons can be assumed to have incurred a one-fourth disability plus a high risk of premature death.
Lesser injury, with perhaps total recovery in some cases but also perhaps lifelong impairment and progressive debilitation in others, were suffered by some 180,000 persons.
The registering, recording, diagnosing, and care of these victims and the adjustment of the survivors of the dead to a new mode of life is an immense job, beyond the present capabilities of all the voluntary and public agencies of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh and the Union Government put together. In the above estimates, the total number of persons damaged and to be provided for in their own estimate may numbers 225,000.
We recognize that often more than one deceased comes from the same family, and therefore the calculations of compensation would in many cases double or multiply further. We must reckon on the same occurrence in regard to compensation for the injured. Should compensation be correspondingly lessened, "two for the price of one" or "three for the price of two", so to speak? Or, on the other hand, should the compensation be increased : a loss of two children to a man is more damaging than twice the loss of one? The sorrow is all the worse; the loss of potential earnings, which would have gone to an extended family, is to be multiplied proportionately, not regressively. In the balance I see no necessity to alter the formulas.
One of the nastiest arguments against awarding generous compensation to the victims comes more from bourgeois Indians than from Americans. The same argument is voiced by some who cannot wait to put money into the hands of the governments and who treat forever the people, all people, as wards of the state : "These people wouldn't know what to do with their money," it is said;' "They've never had anything. They will waste it." Americans are more tolerant of people who do not spend their money as others would.
Even many radical, anti-American Indians, who "love the poor" find the idea of a sudden enrichment of the victims of Bhopal intolerable. When pressed to explain why they feel this way, they are enveloped in embarrassment and confusion and invent various false reasons that would never apply to themselves in like circumstances. The arguments are not new to Americans, of course, who are used to poor and uneducated people becoming rich overnight, whether by inheritance, or by the discovery of oil on their land, or by winning million-dollar lotteries, or by having American Indian ancestors who were cheated of their land by governments or individuals, or by large awards in cases of accidental disablement and death as here. Instead, the Indian ought better to feel in awe of a legal system that may put wealth in the pockets of a victim instead of the state, and does not ask whether the victim is a vice-president of a bank who "knows what to do with his money."
I could well defend the right of any victim to "go to hell in his own way," given his distressing experiences, but I shall rest with the assertion that the victims will probably on the average "do as well with their money" as any random selection of a population of victims, or even of well-to-do victims, would. The reasons are indicated here and there in my report where I show that we are not dealing with fools and idiots. A poor illiterate widow who had received a small sum of money from the government told us, in the presence of a group of neighbors, that she had put the money in a bank. They agreed that she had done so and it was the right thing to do. The matter came up because she was saying : "How can money ever pay for my loss?" In any event, it is to be hoped that a proper independent trust group will act in part as an advisor to individuals and in part as a manager of rehabilitation activities on behalf of the victims.
All other losses are relatively minor in comparison with personal injuries, but in absolute terms, they are very heavy indeed. The City of Bhopal was turned into a chaos of abandonment, confusion, mourning, voluntary and emergency work, and disorganization. It is fair to say that every person in the population of about one million lost time and money. The disruption of facilities, markets, and business extended far and wide in the State of Madhya Pradesh.
It is unnecessary here to make fine distinctions, since we are establishing general parameters and principles for handling the damages and compensation. Thus differences between large and small business, types of employment and rates of earnings can be put aside momentarily. The business damages can be averaged into "business days," the figure of total loss of products, goods and services can be set at eleven "business days." There are about 300work days in the year, more than in the U.S.A. If the total annual gross product of goods and services of the City of Bhopal is figured to approximate $ 2 billion, then about 1/30 of the product will have been lost. This comes to about $ 65 million. About 200,000 workers would be eligible for compensation.
Damages of the City of Bhopal, of the hospitals and other independent public services, and of the state Government may be included under this head. In the case of hospitals, some of the damages should actually be billed as services rendered; this is an accounting formality, but should be carried properly inasmuch as payments are owing medical and hospital personnel for heavy overtime work over a period of weeks.
It may be appropriate to make contributions or awards to voluntary community agencies who performed above and beyond the call of duty, such as the People's Movement and the newspapers, mentioned earlier in these pages. Again, these are not damages, but, as payments for which revenues are sought, they can be included here.
A final item, not damages but to be reckoned with them, would be attorneys' fees. It is assumed that the cases will go to trial. It is assumed that large awards and/or settlements will be paid. If the courts allow contingency fees, the compensation of the lawyers will be heavy, exaggerated in proportion to the effort expended and large award realized. Compensation of one percent (1%) of the damages awarded should be ample and not excessive and should include expenses. This is for the courts to decide, or for those who have influence in settlement proceedings.
A final type of expense comes from executing the judgements or settlements. Once more, it is not a damage, but an administrative cost. This would cover schemes and procedures for identifying victims, medical and psychiatric examinations, follow-up research on the victims, determining net worth in many cases, statistical work, surveys and interviews. If there exist nearly a quarter of a million righteous claimants, and half that many not so righteous, procedural and medical examinations going up to a million individual cases can be expected.
As the stupendous proportions of the tragedy are thus unrolled in the detailing of damages and associated costs, the "Holocaust Syndrome" will begin to glaze the eyes of some people. "It can't have been that bad !" "The bill can never be paid !" "It's not like being hit by a car !" "One can't think in individual terms about such matters." Finally, "We are dealing with the poor, aren't we really? -- after all, they are Indians, and there are so many of them."
This line of thought must be suppressed! It is unjust, unreal, to avoid issues of holocausts, of the million dead of Verdun, of nuclear catastrophes, of mass starvation, of the Bhopal disaster. The insanity is in the psychological repression that denies the immensity of the problem and its reality. The insanity is in those who avoid responsibility, not in those who confront responsibility.
Because India has over four times the unemployment rate of the U.S.A., the Indian worker has to support four times as many people as the American worker. If his productivity in a work group averages 20% less than the American's (to be measured by the profitability of the group or another indicator), if his pay is to be equal to the American's pay (given relative costs of living), then he still must be given an extra allowance to enable him to carry his extra burden of support (which is not, as in America, carried by the social welfare system) or given to understand that his extra burden of support is a luxury, like an extra automobile in America would be, and should be reduced by population control.
The Union Carbide workers at Bhopal were well-paid by general Indian standards and even by organized industrial workers' standards. Unskilled workers received over 1000 rupees ($80 US roughly) a month, three times more than a domestic worker and 50% more than a low ranking clerical worker in government and private industry. For this reason alone, a job with UC was considered a "good job." For 1.50 rupees (about twelve cents) he could buy a lunch at the company cafeteria.
However, let us examine the case of a victim of the disaster. The typical victim was a poor worker whose recompense was so slight that it would be ignored in America as nothing at all. Yet it was significant. Children, women, the old, and the able-bodied in the Bhopal slums sought work of any kind diligently and would put to shame Americans who pride themselves on self-help and "do-it-yourself." One old man of 75 years, for instance, rolled tobacco supplied him by a dealer into tiny cigars, the "beedies." He sat in his little hut, calm and philosophical, in a setting quieted by the death of several neighbors, and rolled 1,000 beedies a day for 9.50 rupees (not an "even 10") meanwhile selling as a retail dealer for his factor a few packs of beedies on his own. Now take a little girl of 10 who watches over a goat that must wander about to find greens and garbage to eat; she also picks up twigs for the fire, cleans pots, and goes to school.
Her mother has survived, too, and is out looking for work as a hod-carrier. She will carry large stones or ceramic pots on her head all day long for a few rupees; that is one type of work but she will do other types, such as guard the household, build a fire and boil water for a neighbor who has found labor on another day. Then she must sew up pieces of cloth, and shop, clean the house, bathe the baby and wash away the sewage along a sewage ditch. Can we say that the mother of the girl is worth less than the mother of an American girl, or vice versa that the child of the mother is worth less? No. probably more, if only because the interdependence is greater and the alternatives of the child fewer.
A boy may be found a mile away sitting in a tiny cobbler's shop and somehow helping the cobbler by making deliveries, picking up nails, cleaning sandals, etc. and now the man of the house, if he has survived, or if he is not away for days on a trip to his village to exchange goods, may be wandering about looking for work, or regularly sweeping out mosques and shops with his dirt-cheap broom. He may also go out to sell a few trinkets, an embroidered cloth, or to collect a load of wood in return for breaking up a large heap of it.
The people take virtually every kind of work; they do not dare to imagine criminality as employment; and they will accept almost any pay for their efforts. Furthermore, in startling contrast to Americans and Europeans, they -- these who seem to have nothing -- express a congenial mood and live in an enviable harmony of existence. If you walk among them in your fine clothes, you will not only feel safe; you will find not merely tolerance and smiles; but you will experience gratification at the compliments implied by your appearance and intimacy. You need have no love for poverty, nor be keen for snobbish slumming to understand this humanity. In the morning and evening, they bathe, showering themselves from jugs of water filled at occasional faucets on a line that the City of Bhopal has laid for them. At dark, electric bulbs light up in many houses. The streets are laid out in a grid-plan, even and well-maintained. At night, whoever are not away may sit around chewing seeds and talking, often with neighbors a few feet away, or listening to the radio. What they say is no less intelligent than the conversation among average Europeans of all classes. They are dignified, honest, integrated into a community that is real and natural, quarrelsome on occasion, devoted to children and the elderly. Although the majority of them are Moslems, they keep dogs as companions in remarkable numbers; perhaps they originated from the Hindu untouchables. These, then, are typical slum dwellers of India, perhaps 100 millions in number. These, too, are typical victims of the Bhopal disaster.
But it is time to reckon up the compensation and figure a means of paying it. We estimate the dead to have included 1500 children, 500 adults, and 1000 senior citizens. The first, say, had 40 productive years in sight, the second had 30 years, the last 10 years. The total of human years that have disappeared is 85,000.
We seek to provide an Indian with what he would need to live in a style in his society that he deems equal to that of an average American living the American way, so far as concerns diet, housing, clothing, child care, education, travel, gifts, etc. The sum of $1,500, considered a good wage in India and equal to the operator's pay and benefits at Union Carbide (Bhopal) is to be considered. Since 85,000 lost years enter our calculations to be replaced, multiplication by $1,500 gives $127,500,000 compensation for the dead. Note that penalties, anguish, suffering are not used to augment the total, but that the expectable future earnings of the dead are viewed optimistically. (Still, among the 3000 dead there might have been one future "fertilizers king" of Bombay or Singapore with lifetime earnings of $40 millions. It would not be the first time this happened, and would be more likely than the accident at Bhopal.)
For the fifty-percent disability, half the sum awarded the dead would be provided. Then ten thousand persons must receive, per year, $750 for a total of $7,500,000 per year. The number of years to be calculated might be at the same ratio as the dead, 40-30-10, with the number of young, adult, and senior guessed at 3500, 3000 and 3500. The 265,000 years at $750 give a total of $198.75 millions.
Next come the twenty-five percent disabled, 20,000 of them, who must receive $325 per year. Using the same ratio of years for the three age groups, 40-30-10, and estimating the numbers involved in the age groups at equals, one arrives at a total compensation for 553,360 defective years at $325 or $179.84 millions.
About 180,000 were affected less severely and suffered less debilitation and are less likely to suffer progressive illness. We use a figure of 10% disability for them, proceeding with the active life ratios as before (40-30-10) and with equal numbers for the age groups. Here the large number involved with a small disability results in a low personal compensation figure, for instance $150 per year for 10 years for a senior citizen, but a high total compensation for the group, $720 millions.
Turning to the business losses of Bhopal, we have already arrived at a figure of $64 millions. This could then be divided among all concerns in proportion to the number of employees. Thus a fruit vendor or taxi-driver-owner would receive $320, surely more than he would earn in two weeks of work, but at this point the formula had best be left unmodified by proportionate adjustments for the dollar-product of the business. A business employing ten persons would receive $3200.
About 2000 larger animals died. (More died later.) $100,000 can be asked for animal compensation which can be included with claims for lost valuables that may raise the amount of property loss to a million dollars (This figure includes property sold a trifle in the flight and extreme poverty that followed the disaster.) Awards to helping groups could be set at $1 million. The costs of executing judgements and/or settlements, requiring a great deal of technical and administrative services, to be discussed later, can be estimated at $20,000,000. This includes, for instance, a million medical examinations at $2.00 apiece. Finally, all of the preceding judgements must be totaled, whereupon a lawyer's fee and costs may be added, which we have set at one percent, payable even though the cases may not go to trial. It is felt that the shaping of even the awards and execution arrangements will be owing to the efforts of the attorneys in the case.
The sums work out then as follows:
Category of damages
( In US $ millions)
|Amount of damages|
|Survivors of Dead||127.50|
|Animal and Property Loss||1.00|
|Awards to Helping Groups||1.00|
|Costs of Executing Judgements/Settlements||20.00|
|Fees and costs of Attorneys||6.56|
The total damages is about $1.3 billions then, with additional sums in lieu of damages and in payment of costs. This figure has been arrived at without exaggeration, with due regard to relative but equal human needs, and with a built-in flexibility to allow for the required precision in dealing with individual cases. Needless to say, the sum, while large because of the number of individuals involved, is modest when compared with what might be expected if the plaintiffs were residents of the United States. If such a disaster had happened in America, there would be no doubt as to the fate of Union Carbide Corporation : it would be thrown into bankruptcy.
I should point out that here I have considered the human value of life, safety, and property in India as the equal of the value of life, safety, and property everywhere. Safety I have considered as an absolute. There is no Indian standard of safety as there is an Indian life-style. At the same time, I have considered the victims and their survivors as deserving not a beggar's chance but a solid, excellent chance of restoring and fulfilling their lives. I recognize the positive functions performed by the American and Indian lawyers and the unfairness of the torrent of abuse heaped upon them. Moreover, the possibility lies in such formulas as are set forth of making many adjustments and of following additional considerations to enter without "going back to the drawing boards." Further, as I shall show, there are reasons why Union Carbide Corporation should find hope in this formula of compensation, rethink its program and future, and emerge as a leader of the new world age of chemical industry.