A group of survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy hold placards during a protest against Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the London Olympics, in Bhopal on Wednesday. Photo: A. M. Faruqui
US court absolves Union Carbide of liability in Bhopal tragedy
In a setback to 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victims, a US court has 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.
US District Judge John Keena in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit accusing the company of causing soil and water pollution around the Bhopal plant due to the disaster, and ruled that Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and Mr. Anderson were not liable for remediation or pollution-related claims.
The Bhopal disaster (commonly referred to as Bhopal gas tragedy) was a gas leak incident in India, considered one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes.
It occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.
A leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the plant resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people.
The toxic substance made its way in and around the shantytowns located near the plant. Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 3,000 died within weeks and another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.
A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.
The court ruled that it was Union Carbide India Ltd, and not its parent company UCC that was responsible for the generation and disposal of the waste that polluted drinking water, and the liability rests with the State government.
Plaintiffs Janki Bai Sahu and others had alleged that “toxic substances seeped into a ground aquifer, polluting the soil and drinking water supply in residential communities surrounding the former Bhopal Plant site”.
“The summary judgement record certainly indicates that UCIL consulted with UCC about its waste disposal plans and on non-environmental business matter like its strategic plan. However, nothing in the evidence suggests the necessity of UCC’s approval for the actions about which plaintiffs complain,” the court said in its order.
“Moreover, there is no evidence in this extensive record indicating that UCIL manufactured pesticides on UCC’s behalf, entered into contracts or other business dealings on UCC’s behalf, or otherwise acted in UCC’s name,” it said.
The industrial accident, the worst in Indian history, led to the leak of poisonous methyl isocyanate, claiming thousands of lives in the Madhya Pradesh capital.
In his written opinion, Judge Keenan concluded that UCC is not directly liable, nor liable as an agent of UCIL, nor liable under a veil-piercing analysis.