Pressure building on Dow over Bhopal gas leak case

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:52 pm IST

Published - June 30, 2014 11:38 pm IST - Washington

The Dow Chemical Company came under renewed pressure from human rights organisations this week as the date for its court appearance in Bhopal edged closer, to answer the court on why its wholly owned subsidiary, the Union Carbide Company (UCC), “repeatedly refused to appear in the ongoing criminal case,” concerning the 1984 industrial disaster involving the leak of deadly methyl isocyanate and the subsequent deaths of many thousands.

According to Amnesty International, Dow has been called upon to explain why UCC has not yet answered to the charges of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” and in addition they underscored that the companies were embroiled in two civil suits in India relating to the gas leak and ongoing environmental contamination at the former plant site.

Commenting on the court appearance issue T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA, said, “Dow should not hide from the summons. Why is Dow afraid to face the courts in Bhopal?”

Mr. Kumar added that the Bhopal victims were “closer than ever to realising justice,” and so it was critical to keep public pressure on Dow to attend the July 4 court hearing to ensure meaningful corporate accountability for those affected and their families.

Although The Hindu reached out to UCC and its parent company, Dow Chemicals, for a response, no comments were received at the time this report went to print.

Last week, Amnesty International organised a rally outside Dow’s Washington DC offices to pressure the company to comply with the summons.

The Bhopal Medical Appeal, a UK-based disaster relief and charity organisation, added its voice to the protests, and said that Dow had responded to the demand that it appear before the Indian courts saying, “UCC is, and remains today, a separate corporate entity responsible for its own debts and obligations.”

However BMA argued, “A parent company may be held liable for the debts of its subsidiary in circumstances which vary between legal systems. But Dow has the legal power to control, and therefore the legal responsibility for, UCC’s current behaviour with regards to Bhopal.”

Earlier in 2014, plaintiffs in the case brought against UCC released new evidence that was said to demonstrate the company’s “direct role in designing and building the pesticide plant” in question.

According to reports that new evidence comprised statements by former UCC and Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) employees and evaluations by experts in waste disposal systems, all of which were said to establish that UCC “provided critical design for the plant and its waste management system and that this design caused the ongoing toxic waste problem in Bhopal.”

In February, in the case of Sahu II v. UCC, a Southern District Court of New York class-action lawsuit filed by residents of Bhopal whose land and water remain contaminated by waste from the chemical plant, plaintiffs’ evidence reportedly also showed that it was “a Union Carbide employee that oversaw and approved construction and design implementing Union Carbide’s plan for the Bhopal plant.”

However, in an email to The Hindu, a UCC spokesman, Tomm Sprick, denied that the evidence suggested that UCC was responsible for the creation of contaminated water in the area, arguing that the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals had recently dismissed “a nearly identical case” against UCC, Sahu I.

Mr. Sprick added that the court said that documents created at the time events took place established conclusively that “no reasonable juror could find that UCC participated in the creation of the contaminated drinking water.”

At the time co-counsel to the plaintiffs Rajan Sharma added, “These families have been living with Union Carbide pollution for decades and they deserve justice. Union Carbide refuses to submit to the jurisdiction of India’s courts and asserts that American courts may not grant relief without the participation of the Indian government.”

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