Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Justice Delayed & Denied: Civil Services Mentor Magazine August 2012

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Justice Delayed & Denied

In what came as a major disappointment for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims, a US Federal Court on 27 June 2012 absolved Union Carbide Corporation and its former chairman Warren Anderson of the Bhopal gas tragedy case. In his ruling US district Court Judge John F. Keenan concluded that UCC is neither directly nor as an agent of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) liable for the mishap. While pronouncing its verdict the court invoked a 1998 court verdict in a case involving KFC, in which the court had observed that legally the mere assertion that a corporate parent is or was involved in the decision-making process of its subsidiary, or that it controlled the legitimate policies of its subsidiary, will not shift liabilities among distinct corporate entities. The US court verdict, came in the favor of UCC, has substantiated its long held stance over the Bhopal gas tragedy. The company has long been in denial of all the charges made against it by the victims of the tragedy. Below we are presenting the time line of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and developments related to it.

Nearly 25000 people had lost their life in Bhopal Gas Tragedy, one of the worst industrial disasters of the world history. The disaster occurred following the leakage of poisonous Methyl Iso Cyanate gas from Union Carbide India Limited’s (UCIL) , now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, resulting in the exposure of over 500,000 people, pesticides factory in Bhopal on 2-3 December 1984. The catastrophic gas leak immediately claimed the life of 3000 people, while the aftermath of the disaster had proved to be far more horrifying as thousands of people died subsequently due to ill-effects of the toxic waste in the environment. The enormity of the damage can well be assessed by the fact that even today, after 28 years of the incident; the people of Bhopal are facing the wrath of the tragedy. Poor safety norms of UCIL are one of the prominent reasons for this tragedy. In a testimony to the long lasting catastrophic impact of the gas leak, a test conducted by the BBC in 2009 found that the water of the affected region contain 1000 times the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum amount of carbon tetrachloride, a carcinogenic toxin.

Following is the Timeline of


  • December 3, 1984: Toxic Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC) gas releases from Union Carbide India Ltd’s (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal killing about  15,000 people and injuring at least five lakh others. Millions were left sick and the affected passed on the harmful effects of the gas to the next generations.
  • December 4, 1984: Warren Anderson, the chairman of Union Carbide, is among nine people arrested. But he was freed on bail of $ 2,000, upon a promise to return. Union Carbide is named as the 10th accused in a criminal case charged with culpable homicide.
  • February, 1985: Indian government files claim for $ 3.3 billion from Union Carbide in a US court.
  • 1986: US District Court judge transfers all Bhopal litigation to India.
  • December 1987: CBI files charge sheet against Warren Anderson and other accused, including UCC (USA), Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong, and UCIL. Summons served on Anderson and UCC on charges of culpable homicide.
  • February 1989: CJM, Bhopal, issues non-bailable warrant of arrest against Warren Anderson for repeatedly ignoring summons.
  • February 1989: Indian government and Union Carbide strike an out-of-court deal and compensation of $ 470 million is given by Union Carbide.
  • February – March 1989: Public protest against the unjust settlement followed by filing of a number of review and writ petitions against the settlement in the Supreme Court by the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangatan (BGPMUS), the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangarsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) and other concerned groups.
  • October 3, 1991: The Supreme Court revokes criminal immunity to the firm and its officials.
  • November 11, 1991: Criminal cases against all accused revived in the chief judicial magistrate’s court at Bhopal.
  • 1992: Part of $ 470 million is disbursed by the government among Bhopal gas victims.
  • February 1992: Anderson declared fugitive by law for ignoring court summons.
  • November 1994: Despite numerous petitions by survivors’ groups, the Supreme Court allows Union Carbide to sell stake in UCIL to McLeod Russell (India) Ltd of Calcutta.
  • September 1996: Supreme Court dilutes charges against Indian officials of Union Carbide India Limited - subsidiary, majority owned by Union Carbide Corporation [UCC] – partly on grounds that culpability lies with UCC.
  • August 1999: Union Carbide announces merger with USbased Dow Chemicals.
  • November 1999: International environment watchdog Greenpeace tests soil, groundwater and wells in and around the derelict Union Carbide factory and finds 12 volatile organic chemicals and mercury in quantities up to six million times higher than expected.
  • November 1999: Several victims and survivors’ organisations file an action suit against Union Carbide and its former CEO, Warren Anderson, in federal court of New York, charging Carbide with violating international human rights law, environmental law, and international criminal law.
  • February 2001: Union Carbide refuses to take responsibility for UCIL’s liabilities in India.
  • January 2002: A study by Srishti and Toxics Links finds lead and mercury in breast milk of nursing mothers in communities near the plant.
  • June 2002: Bhopal gas tragedy survivors launch a protest in New Delhi when they hear the Indian government plans to drop charges against Anderson.
  • August 2002: Charges of culpable homicide are maintained against Anderson by Indian court, which demands his extradition to stand trial. Meanwhile, a British newspaper reports that Anderson is in New York after US authorities say they are unable to locate him.
  • October 2002: Protests to clean up former UCIL factory site in Bhopal that activists say contains thousands of tonnes of toxic waste.
  • May 2003: The Indian government formally conveys its request for extradition of Anderson to the US.
  • March 2004: A US court says it could order Dow Chemicals to clean soil and ground water in the abandoned factory site if the Indian government provides a no objection certificate. The Indian government forwards the certificate to the United States.
  • June 2004: The US rejects India’s request for extradition of Anderson saying the request does not “meet requirements of certain provisions” of the bilateral extradition treaty.
  • July 19, 2004: India’s Supreme Court orders the Central Bank to pay out more than 15 billion rupees, part of the original $ 470 million received as compensation kept in the account since 1992.
  • October 25, 2004: Bhopal gas victims protest the failure of the government to pay victim’s compensation.
  • October 26, 2004: India’s Supreme Court sets deadline of November 15 to pay out the rest of $ 470 million paid by Union Carbide as compensation.
  • June 7, 2010: All eight accused, including the then Chairman of Union Carbide Keshub Mahindra, in the Bhopal Gas disaster case convicted by a court.
  • June 27, 2012: US Federal Court on 27 June 2012 absolved Union Carbide Corporation and its former chairman Warren Anderson of the Bhopal gas tragedy case. Activists and victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy case, who were fighting for justice, received a major blow when a US court held that neither Union Carbide nor its former chairman Warren Anderson were liable for environmental remediation or pollution-related claims at the firm’s former chemical plant in Bhopal. However, activists fighting for justice in the case have stated that the court’s decision in the case was not startling and that they would appeal again as there are enough evidence to nail Anderson. The appeals for compensation have been rejected thrice.

With more than 15,000 people killed and 25 years after the horrific incident only eight people have been held guilty and that with a punishment of 2 years. To top it all the main accused in the case Warren Anderson, the then chief of Union Carbide, is living at his plush mansion in the United States. No wonder the media and news headlines are once again flooded with the Bhopal Gas verdict and how easily the Indian Government bent over backwards to ensure that Anderson was allowed to leave the country after the incident. What is further embarrassing is that a former top CBI officer, who was supervising the investigations, is now on record saying how he was under pressure to allow Anderson to leave the country.

The Bhopal Gas tragedy verdict which has been in the news headlines these past few days has once again proved the old saying that justice delayed is indeed justice denied...but in this case it is rather a mockery of the country’s entire judicial system, it is rather the case of Justice delayed & Justice denied. Entire issue is not just about the punishment to the UCIL or any other authority responsible for the tragedy. It’s all about the Justice to the victims and all the people affected by that tragedy. Thousands of people lost their lives, thousands of people’s health is tremendously affected even now. What is the value given to the Human Lives? Why is that it taken these many years to give the verdict? And after so many years they got discharged, Isn’t it the case of Justice delayed & Justice denied? Apart from this, as the news reports day after day have been suggesting, we also need to have highly accountable system where both the investigators and the public prosecutors should be made responsible if the case is not able to result in adequate conviction in court. Media has been highlighting this issue for quite some time now as to how even though the workout percentage in most cases by police or CBI is very high, their conviction rate is very poor. This means the cases fall flat in court perhaps due to connivance of the prosecutors and the investigating officers. So even though the media is aggressively highlighting the mockery that has come in form of the Bhopal Gas tragedy verdict, the Government definitely needs to take note of it and come out with corrective measures sooner than later.

Pankaj Kumar