Families of victims of the gas leak have been fighting for justice for four decades now
Nearly 39 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed thousands and affected many more, a representative of the US-based company that took over Union Carbide in 2001 appeared in a Madhya Pradesh court today.
Dow Chemical's counsel said they are examining if an Indian court has the jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The Union Carbide Corporation, which owned the controlling stake in the Bhopal plant at the time of the gas leak, was taken over by Dow Chemical in 2001.
Dow Chemical has consistently stressed that it "never owned or operated the Bhopal plant". "The plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a Indian company in which Union Carbide (UCC) held just over half the stock. When UCC - itself a separate company from UCIL - became a subsidiary of TDCC in 2001, TDCC did not assume UCC's liabilities," a note on its website says.
Against this backdrop, those fighting for justice nearly four decades after the horrifying incident are looking at Dow Chemical's court appearance as a very significant development.
Rashida Bee, president of an organisation fighting for higher compensation for families affected by the gas disaster said, "For the first time in the last 36 years, a foreign accused will appear in court to respond to criminal charges of Bhopal Gas Disaster. This has been possible due to the support extended by 12 members of the US Congress in response to requests by our supporters in the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal."
Earlier this month, 12 members of the US Congress wrote to the US Department of Justice, demanding that criminal summons be issued to Dow Chemical in connection with the 1984 gas tragedy.
Balkrishna Namdeo, who leads another outfit representing the gas disaster victims, said, "For the worst industrial disaster in history, the CBI in 1987 charged Union Carbide with culpable homicide punishable by imprisonment of 10 years and fines. In February 1992, Union Carbide was declared a fugitive from justice by the Bhopal district court. By taking over Union Carbide in 2001, Dow Chemical committed a crime punishable by 3 years of prison and fines under Section 212 of the IPC. They will now make their first appearance after 7 summons from the Bhopal Court in the last 18 years."
Nawab Khan, who leads Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said, "We know that the CBI affirms that as the "successor-in-interest" of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical is answerable to charges pending against Killer Carbide in the Bhopal District court. In fact, the corporation is also answerable to charges under Section 107 of the IPC for abetment, as they facilitated the sales of Union Carbide's products in India even after the 1992 court order of attachment of its properties in India."