A long road: the 26 year timeline of the criminal case

On the night of 2/3 December 1984, the inhabitants of the city of Bhopal became victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster. 40 tonnes of methyl iscocyanate (MIC – a highly volatile toxic chemical) stored at the pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA – was contaminated with water and other impurities. As a result, a mixture of deadly gases escaped from the factory killing several thousands of people and inflicting grievous injuries on at least 500,000 others. The resulting criminal case has taken 26 years to pass through the courts, during which time many of the original victims died. This is a chronology of the proceedings.



3 December 1984: First Information Report (FIR) on the disaster filed at Hanumangunj police station, Bhopal.

1 December 1987: Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) files charge sheet against Warren Anderson, chairman of UCC, and eleven other accused including UCC (USA), Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong, and UCIL.

6 July 1988: Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, issues letter rogatory to the U.S. Administration seeking permission for the CBI to inspect the safety systems installed at the MIC unit of UCC’s premier pesticide plant in the town called Institute in the State of West Virginia, USA. Till date (June 2010), the CBI has not acted on this offer.

9 Feb 1989: CJM, Bhopal, issues non-bailable warrant of arrest against Warren Anderson, accused No.1, for repeatedly ignoring summons.

14 Feb 1989: The U.S. Administration grants permission to the CBI to inspect the safety systems of UCC’s pesticide plant at Institute, West Virginia, USA, for purposes of comparison of the safety standards with that of the safety systems installed at the Bhopal plant.

14-15 Feb 1989: While the matter relating to payment of interim compensation was being heard before the Supreme Court of India, UCC and the Government of India (GOI) reached a settlement. The settlement stipulated inter alia that UCC would pay 470 million US dollars as compensation and the GOI would withdraw the criminal cases instituted against the accused in the Bhopal gas leak disaster case.

3 October 1991: Supreme Court of India revoked criminal immunity granted to UCC and all other accused in the Bhopal gas leak disaster case in response to review and writ petitions.

11 November 1991: Criminal cases against all the accused revived in the CJM’s Court at Bhopal.

1 January 1992: Proclamation for Anderson’s appearance before CJM, Bhopal published in the Washington Post, USA.

21 February 1992: Proclamation of CJM published in the Washington Post declaring UCC (USA) an absconder and ordering UCC to present itself before the CJM on 27/3/1992.

27 February 1992: Proclamation published in The Times of India declaring UCE (Hong Kong) as absconder and ordering it to be present before the CJM on 27/3/11992.

27 Mar 1992: CJM, Bhopal issues non-bailable warrant of arrest against Warren Anderson and orders the Government of India to seek extradition of Anderson from the United States. Acceding to UCIL’s request, the CJM postpones attachment of UCC’s properties in India.

30 April 1992: In consequence of the refusal of Union Carbide Corporation US (UCC), the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal, orders its Indian assets to be attached.

22 May 1992: Following the direction of the CJM, Bhopal on 27/3/1992, the proclamation declaring UCE (Hong Kong) an absconder was published in the South China Morning Post.

—The criminal case (R.T. No.2792/87) was committed to trial by the CJM, Bhopal, after separating 3 of the 12 accused – namely, accused Nos.1, 10 and 11 – who had been proclaimed as absconders on 1/2/1992. Date of committal was fixed for 22/6/92. The cases against the absconding accused were to proceed before the CJM, Bhopal, as Miscellaneous Judicial Case (MJC) No. 91 of 1992.

22 June 1992: The criminal case (R.T.No.2792/87) was committed to the Session Court for trial. The CJM, Bhopal, ordered all those accused, who were appearing before it – namely, accused Nos. 2 to 9 and 12 – to appear before the Session Court on 17/7/92 to face trial.

17 July 1992: The trial (Session Trial No.257/1992) against accused Nos.2 to 9 & 12 began before the Court of the IXth Additional Sessions Judge, Bhopal. — CBI filed an application before the CJM, Bhopal, for the appointment of a receiver for the attached properties of UCC in India.

8 April 1993: The Sessions Court, Bhopal, framed charges against accused Nos. 2 to 9 & 12 (eight officials of UCIL and the company UCIL) for punishable offenses under sections 304 (2), 326, 324 and 429 of IPC read with section 35 of IPC.

27 April 1993: Accused Nos.2 and 3 filed revision petitions Nos.237/93 and 238/93 in the High Court against the order of the Session Court, Bhopal, dated 8/4/1993 in Session Trial No.257/92. (Subsequently two more revision petitions – Nos. 311/93 and 312/93 – were filed by accused Nos.4 to 9 in the same case.)

14 February 1994: Supreme Court Justice A.M. Ahmadi modifies the order of the CJM, Bhopal dated 30/4/1992 and allows UCC to sell off its shares in UCIL. However, BGPSSS and BGIA, at whose instance the properties of UCC were attached, were not served notice when the matter was brought before the Supreme Court. They were, thereby, denied an opportunity to present their views before the Supreme Court.

10 September 1994: Announcement about signing the sales deal for the attached shares of UCC in UCIL appear in newspapers.

7 October 1994: In response to the petitions filed by BGPSSS and BGIA (I.A. Nos.1, 2 and 3 in MJC 91/92) the CJM, Bhopal, issued an order recognising the locus standi of the intervener-petitioners and granted permission to them to intervene in the case. The CJM, however, rejected the application (I.A. No.1) seeking issuance of directions to the CBI to inspect the MIC unit of UCC’s plant at Institute in West Virginia, USA, on the ground that the case against UCC was not before the Court of the CJM but was pending before the Bhopal Sessions Court.

The application (I.A. No.2) on issuance of contempt of court notice to the GOI for failing to execute the order of the CJM dated 27/3/1992 was also rejected on the ground that the CBI had given an undertaking to the Court on 20/9/1994 that the facts relating to the extradition proceedings undertaken by the GOI would be placed before the Court within a month.

10 March 1995: Information on accused No.11, UCE (Hong Kong), which was received from the Hong Kong based groups supporting the cause of the Bhopal gas victims and which was handed over to the CBI and also placed before the CJM, Bhopal.

31 Mar 1995: BGIA filed an application (I.A. No.5 in MJC 91/92) before the CJM, Bhopal, seeking issuance of summons to Ramaswami Natarajan, a key official of UCE (Hong Kong). UCE is accused No.11 and a proclaimed offender in the Bhopal disaster case.

10 July 1996: BGPSSS and BGIA file petition seeking issuance of non-bailable warrants of arrest against UCC (USA) and UCE (Hong Kong) as a consequence of their continued non-appearance before the CJM, Bhopal, so that extradition proceedings in regard to these accused can be initiated.

13 September 1996: Justice A.M. Ahmadi of the Supreme Court dilutes charges against Indian officials of Union Carbide India Limited (subsidiary majority owned by Union Carbide Corporation [UCC]), partly on grounds that culpability lies with UCC.

19 November 1996: CBI for the first time filed a statement before the CJM, Bhopal on the steps taken in the matter of extradition of Warren Anderson stating that the matter of extradition was being re-examined in the light of the Supreme Court judgement dated 13.9.1996.

29 January 1998: Accused No 6, Assistant Works manager R.B. Roy Choudhury dies.

February 2001: The Dow Chemical Company takes over Union Carbide Corporation-USA. Dow inherits assets and liabilities of Union Carbide. However, Dow claims it is not responsible for a factory it didn’t operate.

24 May 2002: The CBI, working under the Home Ministry, applies in the CJM court, Bhopal to dilute outstanding charges against Warren Anderson, from “culpable homicide” to “criminal negligence”. Whilst the former carries a possible sentence of ten years, the latter is up to two years and is not extraditable under the terms of the US-India extradition treaty.

29 June 2002: Launch of an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi by representatives of three survivors organizations due to CBI’s May 2002 proposal to lower criminal charges against Warren Anderson from culpable homicide to criminal negligence.

28 August 2002: Charges of culpable homicide against Warren Anderson reaffirmed by Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal court. Court demands his immediate extradition from the U.S. to India.

May-June 2003: The Indian Government sends requests for extradition of Warren Anderson to the U.S. State and Justice Department, more than 10 years after CJM’s first order directing it to do so.
26 February 2004: Bhopal Group for Information and Action files application in the CJM’s court in Bhopal requesting the court to issue summons to The Dow Chemical Co., USA, asking Dow to produce its subsidiary Union Carbide to face criminal trial.

13 July 2004: The U.S. government rejects India’s request for Anderson’s extradition. The rejection is made on technical grounds such as the non-framing of charges against Anderson in the ongoing criminal case in Bhopal District Court.

6 Jan 2005: The Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal summons the Dow Chemical Company, based in the US, to appear in court to explain why it has not produced its subsidiary, Union Carbide, to face its charges before the Bhopal court.

Jan 2006: CBI finishes deposition of its 178 witnesses

6 February 2006: Keshub Mahindra and other Indian accused presented their statements before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal in which they denied any role or knowledge of the disaster.

8 May, 2006: Bhopal Group for Information and Action files application in CJM’s court seeking orders directing Dow Chemical India Pvt Ltd to disclose the volume and value of trade transacted by the company of absconder Union Carbide’s products and services. Present evidence of several million dollars worth of revenue earned by Dow India by serving as a front organisation for marketing Union Carbide’s products and services.

2008: UCIL files an application to re interview some of the prosecution’s witnesses

1 June 2009: CJM reissues non bailable warrant against Warren Anderson and asks CBI to present Anderson in the Bhopal court.

17-19 April 2010: CBI presented its final arguments in the CJM court

23-26 April 2010: UCIL final arguments

3 May 2010: Vijay Gokhale’s final argument by his lawyer, Mr Amit Desai

6-May 2010: CBI submitted a Rejoinder to their final arguments

7-June2010 : Final verdict to be pronounced by the CJM of Bhopal District Court.

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