The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is known for being one of the worst industrial disasters to take place in India. It was a gas leakage incident that took place on 2nd and 3rd December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) which was a pesticide plant located in the capital of Madhya Pradesh that is Bhopal.
Over 5, 00,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate and other chemicals. Due to this gas leakage incident about 8000 people lost their lives within two weeks of the incident and other 8000 people died because of the after effects of the gas leakage and related diseases. It was one of the deadliest gas leakage incidents to have taken place in India. The cause of the disaster is still unknown and remains debatable.
TIMELINE OF THE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY CASE
- December 3, 1984: Toxic methyl isocyanate 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 the United State’s court.
- 1986: US District Court judge transfers all Bhopal litigation to India.
- December 1987: CBI files chargesheet 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 of Bhopal, issued 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.
- 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 US-based 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.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE COUNSEL IN THE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY CASE
The CBI counsel C Sahay told the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) Mohan P Tiwari that an expert team from Union Carbide Corporation, USA, surveyed the UCIL in 1982 and found serious safety and maintenance lapses on nearly ten count, and that even after UCC experts’ team visit, adequate safety measures and maintenance work did not take place in UCIL, Bhopal from where a toxic gas leak in 1984 caused world’s worst industrial disaster. This clearly indicated the fault on UCIL’s part and it was expected that the judgment would be in favor of Union of India.
COMPENSATION AWARDED IN THE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY CASE
The government had filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court in December 2010, seeking enhanced compensation calculated on the basis of higher number of victims than the number considered earlier. The company had made a settlement of US $470 million (Rs750 crore) for all the victims. The government has asked for Rs7,413 crore. The settlement was based on the earlier figure of 3,000 deaths and 70,000 injury cases; the curative petition has put the death numbers at 5,295 and injury figure at 527,894. The victims of the tragedy, on the basis of a report of Indian Council of Medical Research, say the actual death figure is five times higher than the figure quoted in the curative petition and that most of the injuries were of permanent nature and not temporary as stated by the government in the petition.
THE CURRENT STATUS OF BHOPAL GAS PLANT
The functioning of the Plant is at halt and the area of the factory is not usable at all, till the time its effect is gone. The waste present there cannot be touched and is still considered to be dangerous. Anything plucked from that place can still cause harm; such was the intensity of that industrial disaster. The land of factory is not useable in current scenario. Also, it’s not easy to make that site useable again since firstly the entire soil & factory building material needs to be replaced and also the chemically affected soil has to be disposed off which is a tough task .
 Union Carbide Corporation vs Union Of India, 1990 AIR 273, 1989 SCC (2) 540
Published by Shruti Singh, Legal Intern at Legal Desire