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
Following is the Timeline of
BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- February 1992: Anderson declared fugitive by law for ignoring court
- 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
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