Several NGOs working for survivors of 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster have expressed dismay over a New York court's decision that Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) can't be sued for contamination believed to be emanating from the UCC plant site.
EarthRights International, an NGO, had filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of residents of Bhopal, saying waste from the plant was contaminating land and water.
A poisonous gas leak from the UCC plant killed over 5,000 people on the night of December 2-3, 1984. EarthRights said UCC had "largely abandoned" the site, allowing toxic wastes to seep into the local water supply.
It said UCC was involved in the creation and disposal of toxic wastes at the Bhopal plant, and the manager who oversaw the construction of the plant confirmed that he worked for UCC, not for the Indian subsidiary that officially operated the plant.
The New York court, however, ignored this evidence and ruled that UCC was not sufficiently involved in the acts at the plant and that the project manager actually worked for the subsidiary, EarthRights said in a statement.
Many Bhopal NGOs held the Centre and the state government equally responsible for letting UCC off the hook on the issue.
Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action (BGIA) said, "We had filed an application that judge Keenan (who delivered the ruling) should be restrained from hearing this case but that application was also heard by Keenan himself and dismissed."
She, however, added that the manner in which Shivraj Singh Chouhan government backed off "its promise" to become a party in the litigation was no less disappointing.
"We had been persuading the state government to appear in the case as intervener. It would have strengthened the case as the factory site is owned by the state government. Chief minister had promised to do it but it didn't happen," she said.
Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan (BGPMUS) said judge John Keenan, who has been hearing cases related to Bhopal gas disaster since 2001, did not take into consideration facts on the ground.
"The solar evaporation pond, which is the most potent source of contamination, was designed by the UCC that holds 51 per cent shares in the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL). How can it be absolved of its responsibility for the contamination," Jabbar said.
An estimated 20,000 metric tonnes of chemical waste lying underground in the carbide plant premises and in a solar evaporation pond, which the Carbide used to dump the waste, is believed to have contaminated underground water and soil in at least 22 residential clusters in the plant's vicinity.
(With PTI input)