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Bhopal gas tragedy, India


On the night of 2nd December, 1984 a leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals from the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) pesticide plant in Bhopal, resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people. Over the next few days up to 8,000 people died and the case is counted as the worst industrial disaster in human history. According to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), more than 150,000 gas victims are chronically ill, and 50,000 or so are too sick to even work for a living. Till date, more than 25,000 have died as a result of exposure to the poison gases. The toxic wastes that lie strewn in and around the factory has leaked its poisons into the groundwater.

The Government of India originally claimed US$ 3.3 billion from UCC, however, in 1989, a settlement was reached under which UCC agreed to pay US$470 million (the insurance sum, plus interest) in a full and final settlement of its civil and criminal liability. In 1991, the local Bhopal authorities charged Warren Anderson, the CEO at the time, who had retired in 1986, with manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He was declared a fugitive from justice by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal on 1 February 1992 for failing to appear at the court hearings in a culpable homicide case in which he was named the chief defendant.

Activists and victims consider the sum US$470 million agreed on in 1989 as inadequate to compensate the immense losses provoked by the terrible accident. Various petitions to hold accountable Dow Chemicals (which now owns UCC) have been presented to Indian and American courts. The company has systematically refused to own up to their liabilities in rehabilitating gas victims and cleaning up the toxic contamination left behind in the Bhopal site. Three successive lawsuits, in 1999, 2004 and 2007 were filed in the US Courts on behalf of Bhopal inhabitants suffering from the pollution of the abandon plant. The two first ones Bano v. Union Carbide and “Sahu I” were dismissed. For the last one, “Sahu II”, the plaintiffs appealed in August 2014.

Dow Chemicals claims that the sum from the 1989 settlement should be used to clean up the site and ignores a 2004 ruling from the Indian Supreme Court determining that the sum is to be exclusively given to the victims. Yet, not all that amount was distributed directly to them but thanks to the ICJB the remaining funds were distributed, a pitiful sum of US$ 500 per person but still symbolic. After years of diverse forms of demonstrations, marches and hunger strikes, the Indian government started in 2009 the public works to provide clean water to Bhopal.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Bhopal gas tragedy, India
State or province:Madhya Pradesh
Location of conflict:Bhopal
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Chemical products

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The company produced 5,000 tons of pesticides each year, having 14 plants operating throughout the country.

On the night of 2-3 December, 40 tons of MIC leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant.

The poison gas cloud enveloped an area of over 20 square kilometres before the residents could escape from its lethal grip.

A total of 145 legal actions involving around 200,000 actors have been carried out in the United States against Union Carbide.

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:100000
Start of the conflict:1984
Company names or state enterprises:Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) from India
Dow Chemical Company from United States of America
Relevant government actors:United States Government, India Supreme Court, Madhya Pradesh Government, India Government, MoEF - India, SCOTUS - Usa, District Court of Bhopal, CBI - India, Departement of Chemicals and Petrochemicals - India
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace, Justice for Bhopal, AID - India, PSI - India, Yes Men, Students for Bhopal, CorpWatch - USA, PANNA - USA, SACEM, Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Earthrights International

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Air pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Specific impacts on women, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:The victims want to force DOW company to pay for the damages and the restoration of the area.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although there was a trial that made the company to pay an amount of US$470 million dollar, the affected population claims it is insignificant and demands a proper environmental restoration and payment of the true liabilities.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

State of Madhya Pradesh through CBI vs. Warren Anderson, et al. - Judgment, Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Bhopal, 7 June 2010 (see attachment)

Judicial case No. 8460 / 1996 State of Madhya Pradesh vs. Sri Warren Anderson & others

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Environmental Movements in India, Pawar,S.N.; Patil,R.B.;Salunkhe, S.A. codice: IN 015

The Violence of the Green Revolution, Shiva, Vandana

Bhopal gas tragedy, The worst Industrial Disaster In Human History, Mukherjee, Suroopa

Cloning Bhopal, Exposing the dangers in Delhis environment, Dubey, Sunita; Bansal, Shipra; Pawar, Deepika

Bhopal: Exposure of a corporate crime, by Wanchoo A., Greenpeace India

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal

NIghtmare in Bhopal, December 3rd, 2004, Greenpeace USA

2012 London Olympics: India to Raise Issue of Dow Sponsorship over Bhopal Link, by Prasad, B.

Bhopal gas tragedy victims press on with appeal arguments in U.S., September 5th, 2015, by Lakshman, N.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Other documents

Protest in Bhopal, December 2014 More than 30 year after the catastrophe the mobilization for justice in Bhopal continues, ICJB

The ruins of the Union Carbide Corp. pesticides factory The Union Carbide Corp never depolluted the site of the tragedy, while the iron keeps rusting, the remaining gases pollute the surroundings, Reuters

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update27/10/2015



Protest in Bhopal, December 2014

More than 30 year after the catastrophe the mobilization for justice in Bhopal continues, ICJB

The ruins of the Union Carbide Corp. pesticides factory

The Union Carbide Corp never depolluted the site of the tragedy, while the iron keeps rusting, the remaining gases pollute the surroundings, Reuters