Thirty four-years ago, on this day in 1984, India witnessed one of the world’s worst chemical disasters, the Bhopal gas tragedy. Over 15,000 people were killed when nearly 42 tonnes of toxic gas, Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC) leaked from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) factory which was built in 1969 to produce a pesticide called Sevin in Bhopal.
The cause of the so-called 'accidental leakage' is still under debate. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.
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While the Indian government and local activists argue that slack management and deferred maintenance created a situation where routine pipe maintenance caused a backflow of water into a MIC tank, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in its defence said that water entered the tank through an act of sabotage.
Civil and criminal cases were filed in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster. In June 2010, seven former employees, including the former UCIL chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by Indian law. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but perished before the judgment was passed. Anderson similarly passed away on 29 September 2014.
Here is the timeline of the Bhopal gas tragedy
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 a US 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, Bhopal, issues 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.
September 2014: Anderson died at the age of 92 at a nursing home in the US.