Justice still evades Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims
On the 32nd anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, victims are still to be provided with health cards and full medical histories by the state government, despite being ordered by the Supreme Court to do so. Victims are still categorized as having 'temporary' disability although it is the 32nd year of recorded treatment. Several cases are still being heard at various courts.
On the night of 2–3 December 1984, Methyl Isocyanate gas leaked out of Union Carbide India Limited's pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh after water accidentally entered the storage tank. 30 metric tonnes of gas escaped into the atmosphere in 45-60 minutes, spreading across a vast area, engulfing nearby villages. Over 3,787 people died of exposure to the gas, and over 500,000 were injured.
The CBI states that negligence on the part of the Union Carbide Corporation and faulty pipelines, led to water leaking into the tank. However, UCC maintained that it was an act of sabotage.
MIC is an organic compound used in the production of rubber, adhesives, plastic and fertilizers. It is a highly toxic and irritating material and is extremely hazardous to human health. It is a colorless flammable liquid, which when mixed with water releases several hazardous gases including phosgene, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, oxides of nitrogen, monomethyl amine and carbon dioxide
In the immediate aftermath, the plant was closed to outsiders, including Union Carbide Corporation employees by the Indian government. The UCC chairman and CEO Warren Anderson, together with a technical team, immediately traveled to India upon hearing of the leak. Anderson was placed under house arrest by the Indian government and urged to leave the country within 24 hours due to the public outcry.
The Indian Government passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985, allowing the Government of India to act as the legal representative for victims of the disaster. The Government of India claimed US$3.3 billion in damages; however, UCC proposed a settlement figure, endorsed by US attorneys of $350 million. In February'89, UCC and the Indian government reached an out-of-court settlement of $470 million.
In 1991, a local court in Bhopal charged CEO Warren Anderson for culpable homicide and manslaughter and ordered his extradition. He was declared a fugitive from justice by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal on 1 February 1992 for failing to appear at court hearings. Several protests also broke out in India over the settlement figure agreed by the Indian government.
In 1994, Union Carbide sold its stake in Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) to McLeod Russell (India) Ltd of Calcutta, distancing the parent company from legal ramifications of Bhopal. This was allowed by the Supreme Court despite protests across the country.
In 2003, the Indian government conveyed its request for extraditing Warren Anderson from the US. The request was rejected and Union Carbide refused to take responsibility for UCIL's liabilities. In June 2010, seven Indian executives including the Chairman of UCIL, were convicted of causing death by negligence. They were released on bail and challenged the courts verdict in Bhopal's district and sessions court.
In April 2011, the CBI filed a curative petition seeking harsher punishments for the Indian executives involved in the Bhopal tragedy. The Supreme Court denied the CBI's request in May 2011. Warren Anderson, still considered a fugitive by Indian law, died in the US in 2014. The seven accused Indian citizens continued to appeal against the verdict holding them guilty in Bhopal's district court.
The CBI is set to pitch for the highest punishment of the seven Indian accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy by treating each of the 3,800 deaths separately. It may also plead for criminal proceedings against the Arjun Singh government for their handling of the incident. The CBI is filing arguments against the accused, who are currently appealing against their convictions.