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Bhopal Gas Victims to File Appeal in US Court

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OneWorld South Asia
March 28, 2003


Victims of the world's worst-ever industrial disaster said Friday they would continue their fight for compensation despite a United States court's March 20 dismissal of their claim for damages in a protracted law suit against American multinational Union Carbide.

Organizations consisting of survivors of a methyl isocyanate gas leak from a Union Carbide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal 18 years ago, in which at least 4,000 people were killed, said they were going to file an appeal in the U.S. appellate court in April. The lawyers of the groups had already left for the U.S for the appeal.

In November 1990, the state government of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh told the Supreme Court of India that the gas leak had left 40 people with permanent total disability and 2,680 people with permanent partial disability. Thousands of others had been permanently injured or temporarily disabled, it said.

For the second time, on March 20, U.S District Judge John F. Keenan dismissed the lawsuit against Union Carbide and its former chief executive for damages. "Union Carbide has met its obligations to clean up the contamination in or near the Bhopal plant," Judge Keenan said.

The court ruled that as Union Carbide had since sold the concern, "they cannot be held responsible at this time." In 2001, U.S. multinational, Dow Chemical, acquired Union Carbide.

The Judge stressed that Union Carbide had used the proceeds of the sale of its 50.9 percent stake in the Bhopal plant to build a hospital in the Indian city. "This contribution goes far to satisfy any further obligation defendants have to citizens of Bhopal," he said.

"We are going to continue with our fight - both in court and on the streets," said Rashida Bi, one of the survivors of the December 3, 1984 gas leak. "We believe that the court ruling did not look into the issues that we had raised," said Bi - the president of one of the plaintiffs, the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh.

Bi believed the court had not addressed the concerns expressed by the plaintiffs about soil and ground water contamination in and around the plant in Bhopal. "The judgment does injustice to the victims of the Bhopal gas leak," she told OneWorld.

She said a day-long meeting to discuss the implications of the case was being held in Bhopal Friday. "We have to now plan out a major initiative to challenge Judge Keenan's ruling," she said. "For this, we will hit the streets."

Interestingly, the court also held that the statute of limitations had expired for the plaintiffs - a point that was challenged by the New York-based attorney for the plaintiffs' organizations, Himanshu Rajan Sharma. "In fact, under New York law, the plaintiffs' claims for damages as a result of environmental contamination cannot be time-barred because the injuries are continuous or ongoing in nature," he said.

The Bhopal tragedy has been mired in legal wrangles ever since the gas leak. In November 1999, a lawsuit was filed for class action against Union Carbide in a U.S. district court in November, 1999. The victims alleged that Union Carbide demonstrated "reckless or depraved indifference" to human safety and life in the design, operation, maintenance and safety mechanisms of its Bhopal plant. The plaintiffs maintained that Union Carbide and Anderson were fugitives from the legal jurisdiction of the Bhopal District Court where criminal charges were still pending against them.

Three survivors' organizations and two support groups filed the class action suit seeking damages for violations of international human rights law and environmental contamination. The groups -- Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti and Bhopal Group For Information and Action - filed the case on behalf of the victims of the gas leak.

But Judge Keenan dismissed the case in August 2000, holding that Union Carbide had no more liabilities in the case since the Indian Supreme Court had worked out a settlement in 1989.

The Bhopal bodies filed an appeal at the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. They held that the 1989 settlement, under which Union Carbide paid U.S $470 million as compensation, did not deal with health hazards caused by soil and water contamination.

The court partly upheld Judge Keenan's ruling but directed claims under seven counts regarding ground water and soil contamination and health hazards to him for re-consideration.


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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.