People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 08, 2013




The Bhopal Disaster: An Update


N D Jayaprakash


EVEN twenty nine years after the man-made disaster that hit the city of Bhopal on the night of December 02/03, 1984, the hapless victims are forced to wage a forlorn struggle to seek much-needed medical relief, adequate compensation and justice. The disaster was caused by the escape of about 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) – a highly toxic chemical – from a storage tank in a pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) due to criminal negligence and utter callousness on the part of the plant management in taking adequate safety precautions. The escaping poisonous gases in its wake has left more than 20,000 dead (over several years) and inflicted injuries in varying degree on about 550,000 other human inhabitants. UCIL was then under the control of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) – a US multi-national company, which is currently wholly owned by the Dow Chemical Company (DOW), USA.


Twenty-one years after the Rs 705 crore unjust Bhopal Settlement of February 14/15,  1989 that was based on the assumption that only about 3000 gas-victims had died and another 102,000 had suffered injuries, the Union of India had decided to file a curative petition (Curative Petition (Civil) Nos.345-347 of 2010) before the Supreme Court on December 3, 2010. Although the Court had admitted the UOI’s Curative Petition, which has challenged the terms of the settlement on the plea that the settlement was based on underestimated figures of the dead and injured and seeking from UCC enhancement of the settlement amount by nearly ten-times, the matter has not been heard even once during the last three years. The Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) and the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) do support the UOI’s Curative Petition in principle regarding the total casualty figure (ie, 5,73,000, including dead and injured). BGPMUS and BGPSSS also support the UOI’s modalities for enhancing compensation (ie, that it should be based on the dollar-rupee exchange rate that prevailed at the time of the settlement). However, BGPMUS and BGPSSS have serious differences with the UOI’s stand regarding the number of dead (just 5295 according to UOI) and the seriously injured (just 4944) and regarding the paltry amount that the UOI has claimed for relief & rehabilitation and for environmental damage. The stand of BGPMUS & BGPSSS regarding the number of dead (20,000+) and seriously injured (150,000+) has already been explained in the Special Leave Petition (SLP) that is currently pending before the Supreme Court as SLP (C) No12893 of 2010, which will be heard only after the disposal of UOI’s Curative Petition. On October 24, 2013, BGPMUS & BGPSSS have also filed an interlocutory application in UOI’s Curative Petition.


The persistent apathy on the part of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the state of Madhya Pradesh in monitoring the health status of the Bhopal gas victims – through computerisation and networking of hospital medical records and by ensuring the supply of health-booklet to each gas-victim with his/her complete medical record – is shocking to say the least. While a fairly large health infrastructure in terms of hospital buildings and beds is in place, the failure to evolve a proper protocol for treatment of each gas-related ailment even 29 years after the disaster speaks volumes about the apathetic attitude of the concerned authorities in this regard. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court on October 25, 2013 was generous enough in awarding Rs 5.9 crores plus interest at the rate of six percent from 1999 (the year of filing the complaint) to a US doctor of Indian origin who lost his wife in India due to medical negligence. It is hoped that the Supreme Court would be equally generous towards the cause of the Bhopal gas-victims who too are victims of gross medical negligence.


The criminal cases against the accused are supposedly proceeding at two levels: one against the three absconding accused and the other against the eight accused who appeared before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, to face trial. Through Judgment and Order dated June 7, 2010, the CJM has prosecuted the said eight accused persons under Section 304-A, 336, 337 and 338 of IPC. The CBI, the state of MP and BGPMUS & BGPSSS had filed Criminal Revision Petitions against the said Judgment before the Sessions Court, Bhopal. By completely overlooking the plea of the prosecution and by upholding the contentions of the accused in toto, the Sessions Court, Bhopal, on August 28, 2012 dismissed the CBI’s Criminal Revision Petition No 632 of 2010 against the said Judgment because of it “being not maintainable and barred by limitation”. The CBI had sought enhancement of charges against Keshub Mahindra and seven other accused from Section 304-A to Section 304 Part-II of IPC on the basis of evidence already before the Court of the CJM.  Thus, the ray of hope that was visible in the Supreme Court’s Order dated May 11, 2011 in Curative Petition (Cr) Nos 39-42 of 2010, which was that the misreading of its Order dated September 13, 1996 in Criminal Appeals Nos 1672-1675 of 1996 by the CJM “can certainly be corrected by the appellate/ revisional court”, has suffered a serious setback. Moreover, the fervent hope that similar Criminal Revision Petitions that the state of MP as well as BGPMUS & BGPSSS had filed, which were certainly not barred by limitation, would receive favourable consideration were also thwarted when the Sessions Court summarily dismissed the said Revision Petitions after keeping the same pending unduly for over three years.


The criminal case against the three absconding accused, namely accused Nos 1, 10 and 11, which has been pending before the Court of the CJM as Miscellaneous Judicial Case (MJC) No 91 of 1992 has also been proceeding at an equally tardy pace. The lackadaisical manner in which the trial against the accused in the Bhopal disaster criminal case has proceeded for the last twenty-nine years makes a mockery of the criminal justice system in the country.  BGPMUS and BGPSSS are in the process of placing these facts before the higher courts for appropriate relief.


Toxic waste that was generated during UCIL’s operation from 1969 to 1984 was dumped in and around the plant leading to severe soil and water contamination is another major problem. A comprehensive study to estimate the extent and gravity of the damage has not been carried out by the centre or the state government to date. However, a preliminary study that was jointly carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, during 2009-2010, has estimated that “the total quantum of contaminated soil requiring remediation amounts to 11,00,000 MT (metric tones)(p 68). Based on the “Polluter Pays Principle”, it is the duty and responsibility of the Dow Chemical Company, USA, which currently owns UCC, to meet the cost of remediating comprehensively the affected environment in and around the UCIL plant with the latest available remediation technology.