Secret Union Carbide documents obtained by “discovery” during a class action suit brought by survivors against the company in New York, reveal for the first time that the technology used at the fatal Bhopal factory – including the crucial units manufacturing carbon monoxide and methyl isocyanate (MIC) – was unproven, and that the company knew it would pose unknown risks.
For 18 years since the disaster, Carbide has consistently lied by claiming that the technology in its fatal Bhopal factory was identical to that used in its plant at Institute, West Virginia. The corporation’s lawyers and PR gurus even referred to Institute as Bhopal’s “sister plant”. But Bhopal was the ugly sister, always underfunded, always second-best.
The corporation knew the danger, but regarded it as an acceptable “business risk”.
The proposal’s 50 pages demonstrate a blithe disregard for human safety. Nowhere is there any mention of risks to surrounding communities – the city’s railway station was less than a mile away and downwind of the plant. Instead they reveal that the company was obsessed to keep control of its Indian subsidiary at all costs – an obsession which led directly to underfunding of the MIC-Sevin unit, and which explodes another of Carbide’s long-standing lies: that it had no control over its Bhopal plant.
Speaking at a press conference in Bhopal today, Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, one of the plaintiffs in the New York case, observed that “Union Carbide built the MIC unit in order to retain control, they used untried technology to keep control, they under-funded it to keep control. When it turned Bhopal into a gas chamber, they said they’d had no control.”
Pressure mounts for Anderson’s extradition
Carbide’s ex-CEO Warren Anderson, who since 1992 has been refusing to appear before a criminal court in Bhopal, was one of the select Management Committee who approved the Bhopal MIC project.
“This is the documentary proof, the ‘high standard of evidence’ that the Indian Attorney General Soli Sorabjee claimed he didn’t have to be able to press for Warren Anderson and Union Carbide’s extradition. What we’ve found shows both prior knowledge and intent on the part of the accused: it is so significant that it demands the revision of the pending criminal charges in the Bhopal court.”
In this opening report, timed to coincide with a press conference being held today in India by the survivors’ groups involved in the New York litigation, Bhopal.Net brings you the original documents.
We will be following with detailed analyses of the documents in the light of the mountain of evidence that exists about the plant’s defective siting, construction, production processes, storage, waste disposal, maintenance, training and safety systems.
For what sum did Carbide find it worth risking the life of a whole city?
One old mystery can be cleared up right away.
Union Carbide stored liquid MIC in Bhopal in huge tanks, far in excess of what ever would have been permitted in the US. MIC is a dangerously volatile chemical and these tanks were supposed to be kept cooled to 0æC. It is known that for some months prior to the huge and fatal gas leak of December 1984, the refrigeration system had been switched off to save the cost of freon gas.
For the last 18 years, survivors have wondered just how much the company must have been saving, to make it worth risking the lives of an entire Indian city.
Now we know. The figure was $37.68 per day.
Blueprints for disaster
On 2 December 1973 three documents were presented to the Management Committe of Union Carbide Eastern Inc, a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation: a two-page internal memorandum relating to the company’s plan to begin manufacturing methyl-isocyanate at its Bhopal factory; supported by a four-page capital budget plan and a forty-four page project proposal.
There was a dark prophecy hidden in the date of these documents.
Exactly eleven years later – on the night of December 2nd 1984 – Carbide’s unproven technology, functioning badly in a by then run-down and loss-making factory – combined with non-existent staff training, a savage programme of cost-cutting and almost total absence of maintenance – released 27 tonnes of deadly methyl-isocyanate into the night air of Bhopal.
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NOTES FOR JOURNALISTS
Discovery of the new documents comes from a Class action suit ongoing in the Federal Southern District Court of New York. The suit mainly alleges that:
A. Union Carbide demonstrated reckless or depraved indifference to human safety and life in the design, operation and maintenance of its MIC facilities in Bhopal as well as its safety mechanisms.
B. UCC pursued a systematic policy of racial discrimination in the design, construction and operation of the Bhopal factory.
C. Union Carbide demonstrated reckless or depraved indifference to human life in the manufacturing, storage, treatment and disposal practices at the UCIL plant, resulting in severe contamination of the soil and water in and around the UCIL plant.
D. Union Carbide and Anderson were and are fugitives from the lawful jurisdiction of the Bhopal District Court where criminal charges remain pending against them.
The suit is based on the legal provisions under US law ff Alien Torts Claims Act [ATCA]. ATCA provides for civil remedies for ‘crimes against humanity’ [atrocities and offences, including but not limited to murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, or other inhumane acts committed against a civilian population,] committed by a US agency in a US court. The suit seeks the federal court’s decree directing UCC and Anderson to pay exemplary punitive damages in amounts to be proven in trial.
The plaintiffs and co-plaintiffs
Seven individual victims and five organizations (Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS), Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha (GPNPBSM), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (BGPMSKS), Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS), and Bhopal Group For Information and Action (BGIA). See www.earthrights.org/bhopal
The suit has been filed on behalf of:
a. All persons who suffered personal injuries as a result of exposure to the MIC gas
b. All persons who are entitled to recover damages for losses caused by death of their relatives
c. All persons who were exposed to MIC as set forth above but whose injuries have not yet manifested themselves
d. All persons not yet born whose injuries will manifest themselves as congenital birth defects resulting from exposure to MIC
e. All persons who continue to be exposed to toxic effluents, chemical by-products and other hazardous agents as a result of ongoing environmental pollution at Union Carbide’s facility in Bhopal
Important events with dates
Nov. 15, 1999 – Class action complaint is filed
Nov. 18, 1999 – Effective service of process on Carbide is accomplished at their Danbury offices.
Nov. 21, 1999 – Process servers inform plaintiffs’ counsel at GLRS that Anderson’s Long Island address is a vacant lot.
Nov. 25, 1999 – Process servers inform plaintiffs’ counsel at GLRS that service on the New York condo is not effective service since its only a mailing address.
March 8, 2000 – Mr. Krohley indicates to GLRS that they would, now, be willing to accept service on behalf of Warren Anderson and tried to suggest that he had not been evading service but has had “some heart trouble” lately.
August 28, 2000: Mr. John F. Keenan dismissed the class action suit mainly on the ground that the Bhopal Act [Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985] prevented individuals or organizations outside the Government of India from bringing an action against Union Carbide or its official.
October 2000: Appeal against Judge Keenan’s decision filed before the Second Circuit Court of Appeal of the US Federal Court. Futile requests to the Indian government, over several months, to file an amicus curae before the Court of Appeal to clarify the role and scope of the Bhopal Act in support of the appeal.
November 15, 2001: The Second Circuit Court of Appeal part affirmed and part dismissed the decision of Judge Keenan’s court. Claims under seven counts regarding contamination of ground water and soil in and around the factory and consequent health damages are directed to Keenan for re-consideration. Plaintiffs file motion to discovery.
April, 2002: In the ongoing discovery proceedings before Judge Keenan Union Carbide submitted over 4000 pages of company documents.
June 2002: in response to a petition moved under Rule 56 [f] by plaintiff’s attorney on June 20, 2002 Judge Keenan has directed Union Carbide to provide additional documentation related to the case. Union Carbide obeyed this order.
September 20, 2002: plaintiffs and their attorney Mr. Raj Sharma filed affidavits on the basis of about 100 “smoking gun” documents before Keenan.
The Foreign Equity Regulation Act brought into Indian statute in the 1970’s required foreign holdings to be reduced to a maximum of 40%. At the time, Union Carbide’s stake in UCIL stood at 60%. Union Carbide’s corporate policy manual states that “it is the general policy of the Corporation to secure and maintain effective control of an Affiliate.” A specific statutory exemption to FERA enabled Carbide to retain majority control since it would be engaging in MIC production that required high-technology inputs not available in India. MIC production finally started in Bhopal in 1978/9.