In a significant legal face-off, Dow Chemical, the US-based company that acquired Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), found itself at the center of a courtroom drama in Bhopal, India, concerning the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984. The Bhopal District and Sessions Court had summoned Dow Chemical to answer for its connection to the gas leak that devastated the lives of thousands and continues to affect generations. However, on the scheduled hearing date in Bhopal, Dow Chemical was conspicuously absent, raising eyebrows and intensifying the legal battle.
Dow Chemical contested the jurisdiction of the Bhopal court, citing its status as a US-based entity. The company argued that it couldn’t be prosecuted in Bhopal due to its foreign origin. This challenge was met with resistance from the gas tragedy victims, who pointed out that the High Court had already dismissed similar jurisdiction issues in 2004.
Represented by Advocate Sandeep Gupta, Dow Chemical maintained that in 2004, the matter pertained to Dow Chemical of Singapore, but the circumstances had since changed as it now involved Dow Chemical US. Surprisingly, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did not object, leaving the Bhopal court to reserve its order. Dow Chemical was instructed to submit detailed objections, and the Bhopal district court has set a deadline of November 25 for the submission.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, occurring on the night of December 2–3, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant, remains a horrifying chapter in industrial history. Over 500,000 people in the vicinity were exposed to the highly toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC), resulting in widespread death and suffering. The owner of the factory, UCIL, was majority-owned by the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) of the United States.
Dow Chemical consistently emphasized that it never owned or operated the Bhopal plant, underscoring that UCC was the responsible entity. The intricacies of ownership and liability have been debated over the years. Dow Chemical’s stance triggered international attention, prompting 12 members of the US Congress to urge the US Department of Justice to issue criminal summons to Dow Chemical regarding the 1984 gas tragedy.
Dow Chemical’s absence at the recent court hearing disappointed those seeking justice for the victims of the gas tragedy. The event marked a pivotal moment, with a foreign entity facing criminal charges in an Indian court for the first time after nearly four decades. Rashida Bee, the president of an organization advocating for higher compensation for affected families, highlighted the historic nature of this development, attributing it to the support extended by US Congress members who responded to requests from campaigners.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy’s repercussions have proven enduring, extending beyond immediate mortality and morbidity. A study conducted by researchers from the University of California revealed the profound long-term health effects on survivors. Respiratory, neurological, musculoskeletal, ophthalmic, and endocrine issues plagued survivors over the years. Additionally, women exposed to the toxic gas experienced heightened rates of miscarriages, stillbirths, neonatal mortality, menstrual abnormalities, and premature menopause.
As the legal battle continues and the tragic legacy endures, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy remains a stark reminder of the need for justice, accountability, and global awareness regarding the enduring impact of industrial disasters on communities. The absence of Dow Chemical at the recent court hearing underscores the complexity of the case, leaving many questions unanswered while emphasizing the urgency of addressing the ongoing challenges faced by the victims and their families.
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