This Case analysis has been done by Palak Nigam (Currently pursuing a B.A, LLB degree from KIIT School of Law, Odisha)
UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION
UNION OF INDIA ETC
UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION
UNION OF INDIA ETC.
DATE OF JUDGMENT 04/05/1989
PATHAK, R.S. (CJ) PATHAK, R.S. (CJ) VENKATARAMIAH, E.S. (J) MISRA RANGNATH VENKATACHALLIAH, M.N. (J) OJHA, N.D. (J)
1990 AIR 273, 1989 SCC (2) 540, 1989 SCALE (1)932
The article briefly analyzes the case of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. How this tragedy came into existence and what were the defaults or the faults and mistakes made by the Union Carbide Corporation as a result of which life of many people were lost and many were injured and its aftermath consequences are still visible in many people, especially children and women. The article further establishes the aim of the study as what is the reason for conducting the analyses of the present case and how it establishes the rule of Absolute liability and whether this is the case for the evolution of the doctrine of Absolute liability or the is any other cause for the evolution of the doctrine. The case talks about the facts that were present to establish the liability of Union Carbide Corporation and what the issue was raised through the case and why the petitioners thought that the Indian courts are incompetent to deal with the matter of tort law judgment was given by the Apex Court. At last, through this article, I have mentioned what are the rules applicable in the case of the Bhopal Gas tragedy.
KEYWORDS: Bhopal Gas leak, Methyl Isocyanate, Compensation, Absolute Liability, Government, Victims, Toxic gas.
The Bhopal Gas leakage case led to various developments in the Indian legal system. The transformation from the rule of strict liability to that of the absolute liability in the Shri Ram Gas leakage case at the time when the Bhopal Case was undecided was the result of the enormous loss of life that occurred in the incident in the year 1984.
On 3rd December 1984 tons of deadly Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) and other toxic gases escaped from Union Carbide Indian Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, MP. In 2006, a government affidavit reported that the leak caused thousands of injuries including temporary and permanently disabling injuries, and killed thousands of individuals. All over the city people were exposed to the gas and the immediate effects of inhaling the gas were coughing, vomiting, severe eye irritation, and suffocation. Till now also are the victims of the gas leak in the form of congenital birth defects. Because of the leakage of the gas, the major effects were seen in the women as the gynecological problem that passed from mother to child for years after. Bhopal being a significant tort case includes issues relating such as deprivation escalating, imperil soaring, moral jeopardy, transaction costs. This led to the development of the Doctrine of Absolute Liability.
OBJECTIVE OF THE CASE:
The general objective of the case was to produce an authentic recapitulation of the Gas Leakage in Bhopal in 1984. Further, the aim of the research is to establish the doctrine of Absolute liability and to establish the competency of the Indian courts to deal with tort cases. It also aims that strict laws must be made to look into such matters which are not dealt with care and attention.
FACTS OF THE CASE:
American giant industry Union Carbide incorporated with the Union of India as Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in the year 1934 in India for the fabrication of batteries, chemicals, pesticides, and other industrial products. The government got 49% of the stakeholder and the Union Carbide was the majority shareholder in the company. In Bhopal, MP a new pesticide plant was set up by UCIL in 1970.
Despite continuous complaints to the UCIL regarding the safety measures of the plant by the agronomic engineer of the plant, the company ignored the complaints and kept on producing dangerous and toxic chemicals in the plant. Woefully, on the interceding night of 2-3 December 1984, the Methyl Isocyanate gas (app. 40 tons) was used as a raw material in the production upon mixing with water and making an exothermic reaction leaked into the atmosphere and spread throughout the city of Bhopal and adjacent areas. Due to the outbreak of this gas in Bhopal in 1984, immediately approx. 2600 people died and the death toll rose to 8 thousand within 15 days, while thousands were injured, missed, and affected which later rose to the death toll of 20 thousand, and more than 6 lakh were injured. This holocaust not only left human beings, flora and fauna swindled it also injured the babies in the womb. Due to the negligence of the company, still, the residents of Bhopal are suffering.
Instantly, The Union of India to give speedy restoration and Justice to the survivors enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 (the Bhopal Act) creating the Union of India guard of the survivors through the doctrine of Parens Patriae. But, the validity of this act was challenged in the apex court in Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India on the basis that the Union of India was itself the owner of the stakes, they are also liable for the compensation of the tragedy. But the court ruled in the favor of the Union of India by applying the reasoning given in the case of CharanlalSahu v. Union of India. It held that the state is responsible to take the duty of their citizens and securing all the rights given to the citizen by the constitution and protecting the citizens where they cannot secure their rights.
Shockingly, the Union of India decided to prosecute the case in the foreign court instead of litigating in the Indian courts. The reason for such a decision by the union of India is:
1. Indian legal system is not competent to contemplate such a big matter containing the loophole of substantial backlogs in the cases.
2. Law of Torts is not so understandable concept by the Indian lawyers and Indian law so due to gap in law it might cause justice to be hindered.
Hence, all the petitions by the Union of India are presented before Keenan’s court. The Keenan’s court firstly dismissed the case on the grounds of forum non-convenience. The American court was of the opinion that all the evidence is within the jurisdiction of India, hence it contended that for the matter Indian courts are well appropriate.
Therefore, the Union of India in September 1986 initiated proceedings against Union Carbide in Bhopal District Court. The District Court penalized Union Carbide with a compensation of 350 million. The Union carbide appealed in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh which lowered the compensation amount to 250 million. At last, Union Carbide appealed in the apex court of India.
ISSUES OF THE CASE:
1. The validity of settlement ordered by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh.
2. Whether the compensation paid to the victims is in good amount or not?
3. Whether proper care and maintenance was taken by Union Carbide India Limited under the law?
4. Whether the Indian Government compensated the victims or not?
5. Whether the Indian judicial system was furnished to operate cases of this enormity?
The Union Carbide Corporation held that the claim of compensation for the damages caused by the respondent i.e. Union of India. It is an established principle that in a deadly accident where children are concerned, the compensation awarded ranges from Rs. 15000/- to Rs. 30,000/- in each case. In the Bhopal gas tragedy, a large number of children died. Even, in the case of adults, the damages range between Rs. 80,000/- to Rs. 1,00,000/-. The quantum of compensation awarded by the High Court was very less as compared to damage.
The respondents argued that the Union of India should also be made partially liable for the compensation as Union Carbide with Union of India has started “Union Carbide India Limited” where the share of Union Carbide was 51% and the remaining was of Government of India.
Negligence and Carelessness is one of the principal types of tort laws pertinent for this situation with misfortune expanding, moral jeopardy, and social effectiveness. Carelessness is impotence to practice the care that a sensibly reasonable person would act in the conditions. Cases for carelessness can possibly certify the harmed offender for remittance for harm to their body, property, mentality, or money. The principle laid down by the Bhopal Gas Disaster case is the issue of ‘Supreme Obligation’. This issue was deeply examined in the oleum gas leak case. The rule of risk outlays that when s struggle is made with unsafe or hazardous industry and if any mishappening brings about the record of the action then the progress is totally required to adjust for such harm and it might be to be no response to the state that it had taken all care and the harm or damage caused with no carelessness on its side. In such businesses, the rules of a safe plan would be that one doesn’t monitor or tries to foresee the situation that is likely to happen. The standard of supreme risk can be settled in spite of the possibility that there is no carelessness on the part of the offender. Article 48A of the constitution states that the state should try to ensure and enhance the earth and protect timberlands and the untamed life of the nation. Article 51A proviso (g) states that it makes an obligation on each inhabitant of India, to enhance the livelihood and habitat of living animals, natural life. The essence of these two articles is that both the state and the nationals are under obligation to save, see and enhance the environment.
The Supreme Court on 14 February 1989 ordered Union Carbide to pay a hefty compensation of US $470 Million before 31 March 1989. However, on 4 May 1989 passed a rational order regarding the same. But, the settlement of the amount of US $470 Million was less than the promised amount by the government and it was also considered not a suitable compensation. After analyzing the ratio, the amount less than INR 50,000 was given to each victim.
Hence, the legality of this settlement was challenged in Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India. The petitioners, in this case, contended that the drop of criminal proceedings against Union Carbide was illegal and the number of damages awarded was not appropriate as proportionate to the injury caused to the victim. The majority opinion given by Justice Venkatchaliah directed that quashing the criminal proceedings against Union Carbide was not justified and held to initiate the criminal proceedings. Regarding the compensation, the majority bench said that the amount of compensation is adequate, reasonable, and fair, and in case of any deficiency in the money for rehabilitation, it must be rendered by the Union and State Government.
On this point, Ahmadi J. dissented with the majority that when the Union of India is not even remotely attached to the MIC leak in UCIL then how it could be made liable to compensate the damages for the harm suffered by the people. In his opinion, any deficiency that may arise in the rehabilitation of victims must be tendered by Union Carbide as applying the formula of Rylands v. Fletcher.
THE RULE OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY:
The Rule of absolute liability has been led down by the supreme court of India in the case of M.C Mehta v. Union of India which is harsher in application than the rule developed in Rylands v. Fletcher.
The basis of the rule is:
1. If an enterprise is permitted to carry on the hazardous or inherently dangerous activity for its own profit it is presumed by law that such permission is conditional on the enterprise covering the costs of any accident arising from such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity.
2. The enterprise solely has the resource to discover and guard against hazards or dangers and to provide appropriate warnings against potential hazards.
FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS:
The gas leak in Bhopal brought out the incapacity in Indian laws as well as the organizations that affirm themselves to be the safeguarder of the rights given to the citizens of the country. From the legislature’s decision to appeal the case in the U.S. to the cryptic and unsuitable decision of the apex court, it was seen that all the rights guaranteed to the citizen by the constitution are only kept in the piece of paper.
The main criticism of the Indian judicial system is the lack of confidence in the government. The parliament declares the courts in India are not appropriate to please such a huge issue. This indicates less confidence in the Parliament in the Judiciary. A number of cases are pending in India and no development of the Law of Tort in India forced Parliament to appeal the case in US courts.
Further, the Indian courts in order to expand its worth did not order compensation that would serve the loss of tragedy. The judiciary should look into the fact that on the repeated warning to the Union Carbide no steps were taken to prevent the spread of the case to the premise. The judiciary wasted two chances to revise the allotment of compensation. Further, in 1991 it held that any scarcity in the amount of compensation would be suggested by the Union & State government. The court should have looked that why would public money be wasted for mistakes of private parties.
Hence, this is a lesson and should be learned by all constitutional machinery. Stringent laws must be made by the Parliament through which India itself solve the matters related to tort case and no chances should come to appeal in the International court.
It is the responsibility of the executive to check the harmful plants and whether they are following all the safety standards and measures prescribed by the concerned laws. It is also the duty of the judiciary when to deal with matters generously and when to not.
The doctrine of Absolute liability and other liability will be organized even if there is no carelessness on the part of the offender. There are no defences available in absolute liability unlike in strict liability. If the corporation had taken several precautions to assure that such incidents do not occur, then also in case of any fault liability will be established.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is also answerable for the passing of the General Public Insurance Act, 1991 which states compulsory insurance of any unit aiming a risky activity. With this, the incident has also mentioned the Nuclear Liability Bill which talks about placing overall liability in case of a nuclear accident. The bill stops the victims from suing the suppliers directly but permits them to recover compensation solely from the operators. In the series of incidents that followed Bhopal, it is evident that there is a requirement for an appropriate mechanism of compensation and it is essential that any reasonable cap on liability need to be removed because it might be constitutional.
The government of India played an enormous role from the cause of the incident to the delayed justice to the victims.
Who is to criticize here? After the Bhopal Gas leak, it remains uncertain who must bear the legal responsibility. There is several blame to go around which include Union Carbide, UCIL, and the governments of India and Madhya Pradesh. The government was excited to set up such shops in India to create jobs and draws new technology and industry into the developing country.
The Government was also responsible for inspecting the construction and commanding of the carbide plant ensuring that required health and safety standards were met. Then with the passing of the Bhopal Act, the government named itself as the main plaintiff in all appeals, which created various conflicts of interest. And while the matter of liability, an adequate amount of compensation, and strategies to resolve the Bhopal controversy are of great importance and the issues often ignored relate to the Bhopal victims who are the main sufferer of the incident.
The required measure is to main laws and ways to ensure justice for the Bhopal sufferer in the long run and to make certain that their need is met properly and also to ensure that in the future any such incidents do not occur.
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