BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

“Union Carbide lives on and waits for us to die.

~ Unnamed Survivor of the gas disaster

INTRODUCTION

The night 2-3 December, 1984 are registered as a nightmare in the pages of world history. Due to that single horrifying incident, people were and still bearing it’s cost. The coming generations are still suffering from its repercussions. That night Bhopal suffered from two tragedies: one that happened that night and the other which followed the years after the incident. Many people thought that worst was over after the night, but the reality was not the same.

BACKGROUND AND GAS DISASTER

The Union Carbide Corporation is an American chemical corporation, which put up pesticide plant in the heart of Bhopal due to the concessions like central location of Bhopal and ease of transportation. The Indian Government and Union Carbide Corporation signed the deal, which gave the government a stake of 40.1% and UCC a stake of 50.9% in the plant and a plant by the name of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was established. The plant started functioning in 1970 and produced a chemical called Methyl Isocynate (MIC).

But soon the disaster struck the city, when on the night of 4 th December, MIC gas from tank E106 leaked and took a toll on the lives of people who were sleeping peacefully and never thought that such an incident would knock their doors. As soon as the gas leaked, people started feeling somewhat uneasy, many started vomiting, complained of difficulty on breathing. Those who couldn’t flee died on the spot and those who got away were not able to save themselves from the consequences and disabilities that followed. Many who were able to reach hospitals too lost their lives as even the doctors were not able to predict that main cause of the suffering was gas leak. This led to death of many more

It was estimated that nearly 3000 people lost their lives and as many as 6 lakh people sustained severe injuries owing to this misfortune. But not only humans, even animals became a victim to this incident. Research shows that children born in that area are still born with a variety of disabilities and complications.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

After the incident, many victims tried to initiate legal proceedings against Union Carbide Corporation. But the real problem was that the number of victims was very large and the courts at that time would not have been able to process so many individual cases. Also a large portion of affected masses included the poorer sections, who would not have been able to carry the financial costs of the proceedings. So, keeping the above mentioned facts in mind, the Government of India passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985. According to Section 3 of the said act states that the government has the power to represent each and every citizen who is entitled to receive compensation due to the tragedy. Section 9 of the same act empowers the government to frame schemes for the victims.

Cases were initiated against UCC by the Indian Government in the district court of New York, USA, to which UCC pleaded as the misfortune took place in India, it would be convenient of the of the trial also took place in India rather than in USA. UCC pleaded for forum inconvenient i.e. the court can refuse to take up the case if the parties have multiple forums to file the case in.

So, UCC filed a new case in the District Court of Bhopal and the court ordered UCC to pay a sum of Rs 350 crore as a compensation to the victims. UCC then moved to Madhya Pradesh High Court against the judgment of the District Court. The High Court decreased the amount of interim compensation from Rs 350 cr to Rs 250 cr. Still not satisfied UCC tried to directly negotiate with the victims outside the premises of the courtroom. But this move was again defeated when M.W Deo J. of Bhopal District Court passed an interim order barring the Corporation from initiating any negotiation with the victims against any further orders were passed. Many onlookers believed that the Indian Judiciary won’t be able to handle such a large scale case due to its inefficiency and incapability at that particular point of time. But to everyone’s surprise, the Indian courts were able to handle the case in a much better way than any other court could have. The corporation was held liable under the principal of Absolute Liability and was ordered to pay a compensation of Rs 750 crores to the victims and their families in the case of Union Carbide Corporation vs. Union of India, 1989.

ABSOLUTE LIABILITY

The principle of Absolute Liability states that an individual engaged in hazardous or dangerous act, which causes harm to the environment and public, is absolutely liable for such acts. This principle was introduced in the case of M.C Mehta vs. Union of India (AIR 1987SC 1086/ OLEIM GAS LEAKAGE CASE/ SHRIRAM FOODS AND FERTILIZERS INDUSTRY CASE).  The Supreme Court itself turned the liability recognised in this case as Absolute Liability and expressly stated that such liability will not be subject to any exceptions. The essential of Absolute Liability include:

1. Hazardous or inherently dangerous thing (defined under Sec 2 of Public Insurance Liability Act, 1991 and Environment Protection Act, 1986).                                                                  2. Escape of dangerous thing

INTRODUCTION OF NEW LEGISLATIONS

After the incidents took place, the Indian Government passed a series of laws in order to protect any future misfortune and ensure the wellbeing of humans and animals. In order to ensure the minimal damage to the environment, the government enforced new environment laws. One of main features of these laws are that speedy trials would take place in case of any dispute between the parties. The following legislations have been introduced:

Environment Protection Act,1986.            The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010                                                 The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991                                                                   Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Trans boundary Movement) Rules, 2008                     Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996              

CONCLUSION

Even though more than 30 years have passed since the incident, but the scars still hurt to the victims and the rest of world. The Disaster would have been prevented if those small signs of machinery being worn out was not ignored. But as always greed proved to be more important than humanity. The victims are still suffering and no financial compensation can or could have driven out the fear that has made home in their hearts. One can only hope and pray for them.

REFERENCES

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster
  2. https://blog.ipleaders.in/bhopal-gas-tragedy/#:~:text=On%20Dec%202%2C%201984%2C%20a,slums%20adjacent%20to%20the%20plant.
  3. https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1179-bhopal-gas-tragedy-a-disaster-which-shook-india.html

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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