It was only on 01.12.1987 that the CBI finally filed its charge sheet against 12 accused (including Kishore Kamdar, Vice President, Agricultural Production Division, UCIL, as accused no.4; UCC, USA, as accused No.10; Union Carbide Eastern (UCE), Hong Kong, as accused No.11; and UCIL as accused No.12) before the CJM, Bhopal.  As a result, hearing in the criminal case began before the CJM on 04.02.1988. While accused Nos.2 to 9 and 12 were present; accused Nos.1, 10 and 11 were absent (and continued to remain absent at subsequent hearings). Since the CBI’s charge sheet also stated that further investigations were to be carried out in USA, the CJM, Bhopal, issued a Letter Rogatory dated 06.07.1988 addressed to the U.S. Government for the purpose. The said letter of request was issued to enable the CBI to inspect the safety-systems installed at the MIC unit of UCC’s Institute plant for purposes of comparing the safety-standards with those installed at the Bhopal plant. The CBI had also stated that it had to collect necessary documents pertaining to the case both from the U.S. and from Hong Kong. Subsequently, a CBI team led by DIG K.Madhavan and a senior scientist, Dr.M.Sriram, did visit the U.S. in November 1988 for the said purpose. However, the CBI team was forced to return without fulfilling its tasks since the U.S. Administration informed the CBI that it would have to wait until the State of West Virginia granted the necessary permission for the same.
When it became clear that Anderson (left) was deliberately avoiding being present in the court, the CJM, after accepting the CBI’s application, proclaimed Anderson as an absconder on 09.02.1989 and directed the CBI to produce the accused before the Court on 31.03.1989. Shortly thereafter, on 14.02.1989, the U.S. Administration informed the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, that permission had been granted to the CBI to carry out the said investigations in the U.S. as per the Letter Rogatory. However, CBI’s attempt at executing its intended tasks in the U.S. was thwarted by the sudden Court-assisted settlement before the Supreme Court of India on 14/15.02.1989 between the GOI and the UCC for a sum of 470 million U.S. Dollars on the condition that all present and future criminal cases against UCC/UCIL would be quashed. Did the CJM’s decision on 09.02.1989 to issue non-bailable warrant of arrest against UCC’s Chairman, Warren Anderson, and the U.S. Administration’s decision on 14.02.1989 to permit the CBI to inspect the safety-systems of the MIC unit at UCC’s plant at Institute in West Virginia, USA, and for collecting the relevant documents, have anything to do with the sudden settlement? The criminal cases against the accused were revived on 03.10.1991 at the instance of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS), the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) and others, who had filed review and writ petitions against the settlement order. Although the CBI sought to revive the Letter Rogatory vide letter dated 24.12.1991 addressed to the concerned official at the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, the GOI has till date not made any attempt to facilitate the visit of the CBI to the U.S. to verify the allegation of adoption of duel safety standards by UCC. Execution of the said Letter Rogatory and verification of the said facts by the CBI are crucial to the entire criminal case.
It is, indeed, a big mystery as to why the GOI did not take any further steps to pursue the matter with the U.S. Government regarding execution of the said Letter Rogatory. The fact is that the said UCC’s plant at Institute in West Virginia, USA, is currently owned and operated by the West German chemical company Bayer and it is continuing to produce MIC based pesticides. Therefore, the CBI can still visit the U.S. and carry out the necessary comparative study if the GOI takes necessary steps to facilitate the CBI’s visit.
The crime of Union Carbide in causing the disaster has been compounded by the fact that the design and operation of the Bhopal plant had led to dumping of toxic wastes and effluents from the factory from beginning of its operations there in 1977 until the closing down of the plant following the disaster in 1984. It has resulted in the poisoning of soil and ground water in and around the UCIL factory. The several thousands of residents in the nearby areas, who were almost entirely dependent on hand-pumps for their daily domestic needs of water have become victims of slow poisoning by unwittingly consuming the contaminated water. It is becoming increasingly clear that the consequences of such consumption of contaminated water could be very devastating to the health and wellbeing of such victims of environmental degradation.
Under the circumstances, merely pursuing the criminal case relating to the release of toxic gases on 02/03.12.1984 is not enough. Criminal cases must also be instituted against UCC (presently owned by the Dow Chemical Company, USA) and the concerned officials of UCC, UCE and UCIL for wanton destruction of the environment through unfettered dumping of toxins and for inflicting grievous injuries on unsuspecting citizens of Bhopal. The Government of India and the Government of Madhya Pradesh must also be held accountable for their gross negligence in failing to carryout periodic safety inspections and monitor the design, maintenance and operation of the pesticide factory that was producing and storing highly hazardous chemicals and polluting the environment.
Part 9 of a serialised article by N. D. Jayaprakash
N. D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum & Co-Convener, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS, a coalition of organizations supporting the cause of the Bhopal gas victims) He can be reached at: [email protected]