Court postpones hearing against Dow Chemical for the 37th time

Court yet to initiate criminal liability case against the multinational company in the Bhopal gas leak case; charge-sheet was filed in 1987

By Moyna
Published: Thursday 23 August 2012

On August 23, the Madhya Pradesh High Court was to decide whether criminal proceedings can be initiated against Dow Chemical Company in connection with 1984 Bhopal gas disaster case. But as on 37 previous dates (starting 2007), the hearing was once again adjourned for a later date. The court rescheduled the hearing for September 13. The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) had filed a charge-sheet against Union Carbide in this case in 1987.

This is the only criminal case registered in India against the owners of the Bhopal pesticide factory, which was formerly owned by Union Carbide and now by Dow. The 1984 accident at the factory has left a burdensome toxic legacy for residents of Bhopal.

Expressing her disappointment with lack of progress in the case, Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action says: “It is very disheartening that the judiciary is unable to take stringent action against the perpetrators of this heinous crime.” She adds that survivors and kin of victims of the 1984 industrial disaster have been struggling to make Dow liable for the mishap

The trial court had declared Union Carbide and its chairperson Warren Anderson as absconders two decades ago in February 1992. Union Carbide merged with Dow in 2001, and created corporate identities and veils that activists have been working to pierce.

In June 2004, the chief judicial magistrate of Bhopal, Anil Kumar Gupta, issued a show cause notice to Dow, stating that “it would not be proper to pass an order on fixing criminal and civil liability on Dow... without listening to the opposite party.” The case was then scheduled for February 2005 when Dow Chemical International Private Limited (the Indian front for Dow Chemical which claims in court that it has nothing to do with the parent company), appealed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, requesting it to quash the trial court summons. In March the same year, the Madhya Pradesh High Court granted a stay against the summons to Dow Chemical (See 'Case timeline'). Since then, the case has not progressed, with lawyers seeking extensions, court rescheduling hearing and prosecution counsel not being present.

The case has moved across the country from the trial court in Madhya Pradesh to the high court to the Delhi trial court that told the Union Ministry of External Affairs to start extradition proceedings against Anderson. So far, representatives of Dow Chemical have failed to appear in court and explain why trial proceedings not be started against the company. Ten judges have heard the case at different points of time, but there is no relief for those struggling to bring Union Carbide's parent company, Dow, to book. 

Case timeline

1 December 1987 Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) files charge sheet against Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), and eleven other accused, including Union Carbide Corporation (USA), Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong, and UCIL. Summons served on Anderson, accused #1 and UCC, accused #10 on charges of culpable homicide
1 February 1992 Bhopal trial court proclaimed UCC (USA) as an absconder and ordered UCC to present itself before the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) on 27/3/1992
22 May 1992 The criminal case (R.T. No.2792/87) was committed to trial by the CJM, Bhopal, after separating 3 foreign accused of the 12 accused – namely Warren Anderson, Union Carbide Corporation-USA & Union Carbide (Eastern) Hongkong- who had been proclaimed as absconders on 1/2/1992.
February 2001 Union Carbide Corporation merges with The Dow Chemical Company and becomes 100% owned subsidiary of Dow
February 26 2004 Bhopal Group for information & Action files an application at the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court in Bhopal in criminal case (R.T. No.2792/87) regarding issuing of Letter Rogatory for international judicial assistance from the United States Department of Justice to serve summon / notice / warrant upon the headquarters of Dow Chemical Company at Midland, Michigan, USA to produce absconding accused Union Carbide Corporation in the ongoing criminal case on the December 1984 gas disaster
  Survivor groups file application to summon Dow Chemical International Private Limited (DCIPL) to the CJM’s court
3September 2004 DCIPL, a 100% owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, files reply to BGPMUS & BGPSSS application at the CJM court
10 September 2004 Bhopal Group for Information & Action (BGIA) files additional submission to the CJM court
6 January 2005 Chief Judicial Magistrate passes an order to issue summons against Dow Chemical Company, Midland USA, and not against DCIPL, India
February 2005 Dow Chemical International Private Limited files an application at M.P. High court seeking quashing of the CJM order dated January 6, 2005. (Case No. MCRC 1377/2005 filed in MP High Court)
17 March 2005 High Court Judge (Mr. Rakesh Saxena) grants stay on the summons against Dow Chemical Company and lists the matter for April 27, 2005
24 March 2005 BGIA , BGPSSS & BGPMUS served notices and the stay was granted even before all respondents could be present
27 April 2005

Stay granted vide order dated March 17, 2005 extended till next date and case was to be listed in July, 2005. This order was given by Justice   U C Maheswari

8 July 2005 The stay order continues. Order passed by Justice Ajit Singh
18 August 2005 Notices to be issued again to all applicants within a week and the stay order to stay as order by Ajit Singh. No notices were every served to the applicants.
15 February 2006 Judge A.K. Shrivastav continued the stay but asked the matter to be listed after four weeks for final hearing.
2006 The case is listed several times for final hearing as per the MP High Court website but the final hearing has not taken place till July 2012. The case has come to the following judges for final hearings Sugandhilal Jain, Suresh Chandra Sinho, P K. Jaiswal, U C Maheshwari, M A Siddiqui, Rakesh Saxena, Tarun Kumar Kaushal, G S Solanki, N K Gupta, R C Mishra
17 September 2009 Bhopal Group for Information and Action files an application for urgent hearing
21 June 2010 GOM meeting held following decision regarding criminal complaint. The GOM stipulates that time frame for pursuing this would be August 14, 2010. Ministry of Law and Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals on the advice of Attorney General would move on this matter. “Separately, CJM Bhopal issued summons on 6.1.2005 to Dow Chemicals Company, US. Subsequently the company filed an appeal in the High Court and on 17.3.2005, the High Court stayed the order issuing summons. The liability of Dow Chemicals Company is being contested in these and other proceedings by the said company. It is essential that the question of liability of Dow Chemicals Company should be first settled before any proceedings can be taken against the company. Hence, GOM recommends that Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and CBI may be directed to file appropriate applications/motions before the Courts concerned and request the courts, especially the High Court to expeditiously decide the question of liability of Dow Chemicals Company and/or any other successor to UCC/UCIL. Once this question is decided the various legal proceedings involving Dow Chemicals Company and any other person/company found liable can be taken forward.”


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