The ghosts of the past never do really seem
to relinquish their firm grasp on their modern contemporaries – both
metaphorically and literally.
More than 30 years have lapsed since the occurrence of the Bhopal gas
tragedy between the nights of December 3-4, 1984. Yet, justice still
evades the victims of this largest industrial disaster even today. The
1986 Chernobyl disaster is quantitatively nothing, as compared to the
magnitude of gas leakage and consequent deaths of nearly 15000 people affected by the noxious methyl isocynate (C2H3NO) gas emanating from Union Carbide’s industrial plant in Bhopal.
The judicial orders passed by the Madhya Pradesh district trial court
had specifically stated that adequate compensation amounts must be paid
to the victims of this tragedy. The court also stated that for a period
of 7 years, free medical checkups be afforded to all victims of this
unforseen disaster. This was approved further by the Supreme Court in
its ruling made in ‘Union Carbide Corporation vs UOI’ [1990
AIR 273]. Consequent steps were also taken by the higher judiciary in
positive attempts made by it towards ameliorating people’s sufferings,
as is quite evident from the Supreme Court’s ruling in ‘Charanlal Sahu vs UOI’
[1990 AIR 1480]. But ironically, in its current context, more
suffering, rather than intermittent relief seems to be plaguing the
affected injured parties; i.e. the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Although the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act was passed in 1985
to redress the grievances of victims affected by this gas leak, it has
not been very successful in its objective. Civil litigation claims are
pending adjudication in the courts even today. Many of the affected
persons have probably died by now. What good are settlement claims and
civil lawsuits, if speedy justice is not served upon the injured
Although the MIC gas has long dissipated over the years, the negative
effect and deleterious impact it has had on people’s lives has not
completely vanished. Even today, victims are giving birth to babies born
with unwanted congenital diseases or severe deformities. This and other
allied problems, such as upper respiratory track syndrome (URT), facial
or bodily deformities are also a byproducts of the major health
problems faced by people who are adversely affected by the unplanned gas
But whose fault is it actually supposed to be? Who was responsible
for not overseeing statutory compliance of the law? Or carrying out
surprise checks on the industrial plants manufactured and operated by
Union Carbide (India) Ltd.? Was it not incumbent upon the statutory
authorities to conduct surprise checks on the industrial plant to
confirm their environmental vis-a-vis industrial safety for humans?
It was further stated that the recently deceased Warren Anderson,
the alleged chief culprit behind this disaster, had fled from India to
escape trial by the Indian judiciary. That may well be true, as
nowadays, media reports often portray the authorities sometimes working
hand-in-glove with criminal offenders. But denial or otherwise, the hard
reality is that Mr. Anderson did not appear for any of the judicial
proceedings conducted by either the District Court, Bhopal or the
Supreme Court of India.
A further question arises as to safety features and efficacy of
statutory compliance reports. It is common knowledge that before any
industrial plant be allowed to function, it must be thoroughly tested
for any kind of malfunctioning processes that would be likely to hinder
its uninterrupted operability. Contrary to this, as the Bhopal gas leak
incident did occur, destroying around 15000 in its wake, obviously, this
requirement was not complied with.
The Supreme Court has very rightly stated that the authorities
responsible for aiding the escape of Warren Anderson must be brought to
book. But unofficial media reports have clearly stated how the
authorities through Arjun Singh, Bhopal CM, had ordered for safe passage
for Anderson when the Madhya Pradesh police attempted to arrest him at
Bhopal Airport. Is this the way enforcement of the Indian statutory
laws, vis-a-vis its executive administrators grant justice to the
aggrieved plaintiffs in a suit – by simply allowing an offender to evade
the law seeking to punish him?
Unfortunately, Section 8 of the 2005 RTI Act, debars persons from
accessing statutory records. Particularly where the matter is
lis pendens before the Indian courts.
Why are no efforts being made to identify and arrest those who
knowingly conferred safety status of UCC’s industrial plant that led to
the disaster? Are they being shielded by those having an interest in
their non-apprehension by law? Or is the executive apathy towards
people’s interests and legal rights so rustic in its approach that it
sides with criminal elements, rather than than with the electorates that
voted it to power?
It is a pity that Section 8 of 2005 RTI Act debars individuals from
accessing records that are detrimental to the nation’s security and
sovereignty. Or else, the real truth as to the UCC’s statutory
compliance with legal procedures would have been revealed to the public
without further delay.
As a young lawyer, I would hope that justice is delivered to the
affected people as expeditiously as possible. What is the use of passing
new legislations such as the Delhi (Right of Citizens to Time Bound
Services) Act (2011), if a basic fundamental right to justice is denied
to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims for over thirty years?
Although this step by the Supreme Court of India in identifying the
culprit authorities is a slow first, yet it is definitely a laudable
move in delivery of justice. One can only hope and that the courts can
deliver justice speedily to the victims in pursuance of Article 21 of