‘How can India be a defendant, and not a claimant in the Bhopal case’

Union law minister, Veerappa Moily, on October 27, announced the government will not pursue the ongoing lawsuit in the US for compensating Bhopal gas tragedy victims. Himanshu Rajan Sharma, lead counsel for the victims in the class action suit against Union Carbide Corporation, told Ravleen Kaur how the decision has affected chances of holding the company accountable for the 1984 gas mishap. The Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide owned the pesticide plant where the gas leaked, killing a few thousand people overnight. Excerpts:

By Ravleen Kaur
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageOn the government decision not to pursue Bhopal gas victims’ case in the New York court

It is ill-considered and neither in the interest of the victims nor of India. It benefits Dow Chemical Company (Union Carbide is now a subsidiary of Dow) that has asserted it is not subject to the jurisdiction of Indian courts since it no longer operates in India. The Centre justified the decision not to pursue the case in the US saying India’s courts are competent enough to penalise the people responsible for the tragedy.

But any judgement rendered by an Indian court will not be enforceable against the company due to lack of jurisdiction. How can the government then say that Indian courts are competent to fix the liability?

On the attorney general’s advise to the government not to become party to the case

The learned attorney general, G E Vahanvati, said the government could not be a claimant in the American lawsuit, but only a defendant. His opinion overlooks the fact that the land polluted by the company, site on which the plant stands, was leased by the Madhya Pradesh government.

The state’s chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan understood this and publicly sought the Centre’s permission to intervene as a landowner and file a claim saying the leased premises had been polluted. If Chauhan can seek to intervene as a claimant, how can the attorney general say that India could not be a claimant, but only a defendant in the case?

On the importance of government’s support to the case

The American court asked the Indian government to intervene in the case because it is the lawful owner of the pesticide plant site. Though the Indian government submitted a letter to the US courts demanding clean-up and site remediation by the company, it has not intervened formally in the case. This is a significant obstacle in holding Union Carbide accountable for polluting the drinking water supply of 16 residential communities of Bhopal. The Indian government’s intervention is the only option. Otherwise, the clean-up will be left to the public who will end up subsidising the company that caused one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

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  • Thank you for the article

    Thank you for the article Ravleen. If any readers are interested, Rajan has discussed this area in considerable details here


    We have used this content at beyond bhopal to brief as the ministerial in European parliaments over the last year.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Editor, This is a clear

    Dear Editor,

    This is a clear cut violation and not ready to shoulder the responsibility for doing the justice to the project affected people (PAPs)and the area. This allows the people to think in several ways as:

    @ who is responsible for giving the permission?
    @ why people (PAPs)were not involved before?
    @ why the authority (who has given the permission)is
    not ready to shoulder the responsibility for its
    @ who is eating the cream or getting benefit and at
    or whose cost?

    This example, clearly encourages the people/firms to do what they want and escape with out facing the consequences. This situation was raised mainly due to the poor participation of the stakeholders and PAPs. Certainly this type of participation would have helped us to avoid the present ill effects both to the people as well as to the environment.

    It should be the natural law that "Polluters should pay for the ill effects".

    We all should learn lesson out of this bad situation. Now we should awake with suitable measures / guidelines / rules / policies for avoiding such situations in future and thus to do the business for the benefit of the people and the nation.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply