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.