December 4, 2010 Reuters

India claims further $1.2 bln for Bhopal victims

The Indian government has demanded more than $1 billion additional compensation for the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster, a gas leak at a pesticide plant that killed thousands of people in 1984.

Victims and activists have for years campaigned for more money and more severe punishment for those they hold responsible for the accident in the city of Bhopal at a plant owned by the U.S. company Union Carbide.

The New Delhi government filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court on Friday (12/3) to coincide with the anniversary of the deaths, an occasion which prompted victims and their families to take their protests onto the streets, an annual event.


The petition demanded an additional $1.24 billion payment and raised the estimate of the deaths from 3,000 to 5,295, according to a report in the Hindu newspaper. The government said a review had found the calculation of earlier compensation payments to be "completely incorrect".

Rachna Dhingra, a Bhopal activist, told Reuters the petition was largely symbolic and was unlikely to succeed given that, as Union Carbide no longer owns property in India, it cannot be held to account by the court.

"I don't know what new magic the government of India is going to use to enforce this petition," Dhingra said by phone.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has set up a ministerial panel in response to public anger over what is a perceived to be a lenient verdict handed to seven Indian former employees of Union Carbide in June. The panel has demanded the extradition of a U.S.-based former chairman of the firm.

Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemical , which denies any responsibility. Dow Chemical said it bought Union Carbide a decade after it had settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million for the victims.

In the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, around 40 metric tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked into the atmosphere and was carried by the wind to the surrounding slums.

Activists say 25,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in ensuing years, and about 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer today from ailments that range from cancer, blindness to birth defects.

A previous extradition request for Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide when the accident occurred, was turned by the United States, but the government panel has recommended that efforts be made to revive extradition proceedings against him.

Anderson has been classified as an absconder in the case by an Indian court.



India's attorney general asked the country's supreme court Friday to force Dow Chemical Co. to pay an additional $1.1 billion in victims' compensation and environmental-cleanup costs related to an industrial accident that killed and injured thousands of people in Bhopal in 1984.

In the "curative petition," Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati asked the court to intervene "to cure gross miscarriage of justice and perpetration of irremediable injustice being suffered by the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy," which was caused by a toxic-gas leak at a pesticide plant in central India.

The attempt to boost compensation follows an uproar in India earlier this year, when a district court handed out only two-year jail sentences to executives of Union Carbide India Ltd., a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corp., which owned the plant where the accident occurred. In June, the court found seven executives of the company guilty of negligence leading to death, the first and only verdict in an Indian criminal case related to the disaster.

Union Carbide, which divested itself of its Indian subsidiary's stock in the 1990s, was acquired by Dow Chemical Co. in 2001.

The public furor over the sentences led the Indian government to set up a committee headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram to review the compensation paid to victims. The committee recommended seeking more money, prompting the attorney general to file the "curative petition" on Friday.

In 1989, a civil court ordered Union Carbide to pay $471 million to the victims. The lengthy process of verifying the claims led some victims to receive payment as late as 2007, according to Devadatt Kamat, a lawyer for the attorney general's office.

Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Mich., denied responsibility for any additional payments. "The 1984 gas release in Bhopal was a tragedy of such immense and unprecedented scale, it is understandable that anger and grief remain more than a quarter of a century later. It is extremely disappointing, however, that the government of India has chosen to seek legal action that would be both unjust and contrary to law," the company said in a statement.

The company argued that it had no involvement in the Bhopal tragedy, which occurred 17 years before Dow acquired stock in Union Carbide, and that "the rationale for holding Dow responsible is apparently based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between Dow and Union Carbide Corp.-which are, and have always been, separate companies."

Mr. Kamat said the claim filed Friday is largely based on the fact that many more people were injured and killed in the accident than was estimated in 1989, when the civil court calculated compensation.

The court assumed there were 2,000 deaths, he said, but 5,300 people were actually killed in the gas leak. And, while the court calculated in 1989 that 50,000 people were injured, it turns out 520,000 were injured, the lawyer said, adding that "it was an obvious error in computation by the court."

Because many more people were killed and injured, he added, the compensation ordered by the court was spread over a lot more people and individual victims received less money than the court intended.

India's government also seeks $387 million in reimbursement for payments it has made to victims for relief and rehabilitation over the years, Mr. Kamat said. "Taxpayer money should not be used to meet the liabilities of Union Carbide," he added.

The 1989 settlement also didn't address environmental hazards tied to the leak, Mr. Kamat said. The Indian government estimated it would cost $70 million to clean up the hazardous waste Union Carbide left at the site, he said, and it is seeking that from Dow Chemical, too.

Mr. Kamat said the attorney general offered the court several calculations for reparations owed to victims. They range from $666 million to $1.3 billion, based on different inflationary indexes, among other things.

The attorney general's petition will be heard in chambers by three senior supreme-court judges, who will decide whether the case merits a review. The hearing is unlikely to occur before the court recesses Dec. 16.

October 03, 2023 

(The Times of India)

Bhopal Gas Leak: US Firm That Took Over Union Carbide Has Court Date Today

The Union Carbide Corporation, which owned the controlling stake in the Bhopal plant at the time of the gas leak, was taken over by Dow Chemical in 2001.

Nearly 39 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed thousands and affected many more, a representative of the US-based company that took over Union Carbide in 2001 appeared in a Madhya Pradesh court today.

Dow Chemical's counsel said they are examining if an Indian court has the jurisdiction to hear the matter. 

The Union Carbide Corporation, which owned the controlling stake in the Bhopal plant at the time of the gas leak, was taken over by Dow Chemical in 2001.

Dow Chemical has consistently stressed that it "never owned or operated the Bhopal plant". "The plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a Indian company in which Union Carbide (UCC) held just over half the stock. When UCC - itself a separate company from UCIL - became a subsidiary of TDCC in 2001, TDCC did not assume UCC's liabilities," a note on its website says.

Against this backdrop, those fighting for justice nearly four decades after the horrifying incident are looking at Dow Chemical's court appearance as a very significant development.

Rashida Bee, president of an organisation fighting for higher compensation for families affected by the gas disaster said, "For the first time in the last 36 years, a foreign accused will appear in court to respond to criminal charges of Bhopal Gas Disaster. This has been possible due to the support extended by 12 members of the US Congress in response to requests by our supporters in the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal."

Earlier this month, 12 members of the US Congress wrote to the US Department of Justice, demanding that criminal summons be issued to Dow Chemical in connection with the 1984 gas tragedy.

Balkrishna Namdeo, who leads another outfit representing the gas disaster victims, said, "For the worst industrial disaster in history, the CBI in 1987 charged Union Carbide with culpable homicide punishable by imprisonment of 10 years and fines. In February 1992, Union Carbide was declared a fugitive from justice by the Bhopal district court. By taking over Union Carbide in 2001, Dow Chemical committed a crime punishable by 3 years of prison and fines under Section 212 of the IPC. They will now make their first appearance after 7 summons from the Bhopal Court in the last 18 years."

Nawab Khan, who leads Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said, "We know that the CBI affirms that as the "successor-in-interest" of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical is answerable to charges pending against Killer Carbide in the Bhopal District court. In fact, the corporation is also answerable to charges under Section 107 of the IPC for abetment, as they facilitated the sales of Union Carbide's products in India even after the 1992 court order of attachment of its properties in India."