Survivors of the Bhopal Gas tragedy demonstrating outside the district court in Bhopal on Monday.
A US court has ruled that neither Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) nor its former chairman Warren Anderson were liable for environmental remediation (reversing or stopping environmental damage) or pollution-related claims by those living around its now-defunct plant in Bhopal, where a gas leak in 1984 killed thousands of people.
US district judge John Keenan in Manhattan on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by Bhopal residents seeking to hold UCC, which is now owned by Dow Chemicals, and Andersen responsible for injuries caused by toxic waste from the plant.
The court ruled that it was Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), and not its parent company UCC, that was responsible for the generation and disposal of the waste that polluted drinking water, and that the liability rests with the state government, according to wire reports.
Victims of the gas disaster and organisations working with them said they were expecting such a judgment, with the London Olympics — in which the present owner of UCC, Dow Chemicals, is a sponsor — one month away.
They also said the order was not surprising considering that the US district judge was hearing the lawsuit after dismissing it thrice on various grounds.
Keenan wrote in his order, “The plaintiffs embarked on a discovery expedition that was worthy of Vasco da Gama. More than two years and 12,000 pages of discovery later, defendants renewed their motion for summary judgment as to all theories of liability.”
Ten years after the tragedy, UCC sold its stake in UCIL, which changed its name to Eveready Industries India Ltd.
UCC said in a statement on Wednesday, “The court decision not only dismisses the plaintiffs’ claims against UCC, but also clarifies that UCC has no liability related to the plant site and further acknowledges the matter of site ownership and liability as being the responsibility of the state government of Madhya Pradesh.”
Plaintiffs Janki Bai Sahu and others had alleged that “toxic substances seeped into a ground aquifer, polluting the soil and drinking water supply in residential communities surrounding the former Bhopal plant site”.
They alleged that exposure to soil and drinking water polluted by hazardous waste produced UCIL caused injuries.
“The summary judgment record certainly indicates that UCIL consulted with UCC about its waste disposal plans and on non-environmental business matters like its strategic plan.
However, nothing in the evidence suggests the necessity of UCC's approval for the actions about which plaintiffs complain,” the court said in its order.
On May 11, 2011, India’s Supreme Court dismissed CBI petitions on enhancement of punishment of two years in jail and recall of the apex court’s 1996 judgment which had watered down serious charges slapped by the trial court on the accused.