The US-based Dow Chemicals Company, which acquired the Union Carbide Corporation in 2001, cannot be absolved of the remaining liability of the Bhopal gas tragedy, according to the law ministry.
The ministry’s view is in stark contrast to the opinion expressed by top lawyers of the country, who stated that the Dow Chemicals could not be held liable.
Top Dow Chemicals officials have been pressurising the Indian government to absolve them of the Bhopal liability.
The law ministry’s opinion came in response a query by the Chemicals and Fertilisers Ministry in 2008, on whether Dow was legally liable for the environmental remediation of the Bhopal gas plant.
“Irrespective of the manner in which the UCC has merged or ... acquired by the Dow Chemicals, any liability, legal or otherwise would have to be borne by it,” states the opinion by then law secretary, T.K. Viswanathan, endorsed by then law minister, H R Bhardwaj.
“Investment proposed by Dow Chemicals ... cannot be immune of the court proceedings related to compensation for Bhopal gas tragedy victims,” the ministry had said.
Asked if the ministry’s stand remains the same, a top official said: “The stand remains unchanged since neither has the legal opinion been revised nor has been there any direction that it has been overturned.”
The ministry’s opinion led to 27 US Congressmen asking the Dow Chemicals to clean up the toxic waste in Bhopal and provide clean drinking water to the city’s residents.
Law Minister M Veerappa Moily declined to comment on the issue. “The fact remains that Indian courts are conservative in awarding compensations to victims of disasters ... that needs to change.”
“Bhopal gas tragedy was a mass disaster which led to not only present but future generations also being seriously affected, therefore the need was to take care of people,” he added.