Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) was a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation, USA (UCC USA), established for the purpose of doing business in India, including the pesticides business at Bhopal.
At the time of the unfortunate accident, in 1984, UCC USA was the owner and was in control of the pesticide plant at Bhopal. UCC USA was holding 50.9 % shares of UCIL at that time. The technology and know how for the said plant at Bhopal was supplied by UCC USA. All the operations in the said plant were under the technical control and superintendence of UCC USA.
UCC USA was holding the said majority shares of UCIL till 1994 when its shareholding of 50.9 % was acquired by an Indian Company belonging to the Williamson Magor Group in an auction sale held under the direction of the Supreme Court of India and post that, it became, Eveready Industries India Ltd.(Eveready). The present business of the Company is manufacture and marketing of Fast Moving Consumer Goods and has no connection with the pesticides business of Union Carbide.
Needless to say, the Williamson Magor Group had no connections or involvement with the operations of the said pesticide plant at Bhopal. In fact, immediately following the accident, the plant at Bhopal was closed down permanently and all licenses were cancelled by the Government. The Bhopal plant had ceased to be an asset in the books at the time of the acquisition of the shares by the Williamson Magor Group. Subsequently, the possession of the site of the plant was also taken over, unconditionally, by the State Government in July 1998.
Sometime in 1985, an Act called the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of Claim) Act, 1985 was promulgated, by which the Union of India was authorized to institute the suit for claims and damages on behalf of the affected persons. The Union of India thus instituted a suit against UCC USA claiming damages because of UCC USA's direct action in the design, construction and supervision and maintenance of the said plant at Bhopal. Ultimately, in February 1989, a Memorandum of settlement was executed between the Union of India and UCC USA and its affiliates, including UCIL by which all such claims, present and future, arising from the disaster were settled. This settlement of USD 470 Million (out of which the rupee equivalent of USD 45 Million was borne by UCIL) was paid, in February 1989 to the Union of India as representative of the victims in relation to their claims. This was in full and final settlement of all claims, rights and liabilities arising out of the accident and all past, present and future civil and criminal proceedings were to be disposed of upon the payments made.
However, on a review petition, the Supreme Court upheld the settlement order in terms of the civil liability, but directed that the criminal prosecution should continue. Accordingly, on the revised direction of the Supreme Court, the criminal proceedings at the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal, commenced in 1997. The judgment in the said proceedings was issued recently on June 7, 2010. In the said proceedings, Warren Anderson, UCC USA and UCC (Eastern), Hong Kong are also accused parties and have been declared as absconders as they never appeared for any hearing.
Subsequently, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in 2004 against Union of India, State of MP, MP Pollution Control Board and Dow Chemicals (to which UCC USA has been reportedly amalgamated) for clean-up of the toxic material from the said pesticides plant at Bhopal. UCIL and UCC USA have also been impleaded.
The matter is sub-judice and the liability for the clean up is yet to be decided by the Honourable Madhya Pradesh High Court.
The Williamson Magor Group says that Eveready is neither responsible for the pollution as reported, nor is it liable for the clean up of the toxic material and that the obligation and liability of the clean up, if any, should be that of the erstwhile owners of UCIL viz, UCC USA.
June 16, 2010