Timeline: Events of 1984-1989

December 2-3, 1984: Poisonous gas leak from Union Carbide’s pesticides factory occurs at midnight December 3rd, 1984. In three days at least 8,000 people die. On the night of the disaster, water (that was being used for washing the lines) entered the tank containing MIC through leaking valves. The refrigeration unit, which should have kept the MIC close to zero degrees centigrade, had been shut off by the company officials to save on electricity bills. The entrance of water in the tank, full of MIC at ambient temperature, triggered off an exothermic runaway reaction and consequently the release of the lethal gas mixture. The safety systems, which in any case were not designed for such a runaway situation, were non-functioning and under repair. Lest the neighbourhood community be “unduly alarmed,” the siren in the factory had been switched off. Poison clouds from the Union Carbide factory enveloped an arc of over 20 square kilometres before the residents could run away from its deadly hold.

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

December 7, 1984: Former Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) CEO, Warren Anderson and nine other executives are charged in the Indian courts. While visiting the Bhopal factory, Anderson is arrested. Shortly afterwards he is released on a bail of 25,000 Rupees (approximately $500 at the time) after promising that he would appear in the Indian courts to face the charges against him. Anderson was escorted to New Delhi on a special government aircraft and allowed to leave the country; he never returned. B. R. Lall of India’s Central Board of Investigation (CBI) later reports that the Government of India (GOI) prevented the CBI’s attempt to extradite Anderson in the 1990s, at the request of the US Government.

COPY OF ANDERSON’S BAIL BOND [Translated from Hindi]

Bond December 7, 1984
I, Warren M Anderson s/o John Martin Anderson am resident of 63/54 Greenidge Hills Drive, Greenidge, Connecticut, USA. I am the Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, America. I have been arrested by Hanumanganj Police Station, District Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India under Criminal Sections 304 A, 304, 120 B, 278, 429, 426 & 92. I am signing this bond for Rs. 25,000/- and thus undertaking to be present whenever and wherever I am directed to be present by the police or the Court.

Signed : Warren M. Anderson
 Note: Mr. Anderson’s signature was obtained after the language of this bond was translated in to English by Vijay Gokhle, the then Managing Director of UCIL, and read out to Mr. Anderson.

December 8, 1984: The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) begins its investigation.

March 1985: The GOI enacts the “Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act 1985,” which gives the GOI the sole power to represent the victims in the civil litigation against UCC. This was done without any consultation with the victims.

March 26, 1985: 
”We have no evidence whatsoever that sabotage was behind the incident in Bhopal,” Anderson tells US Rep. Henry Waxman at a joint hearing before US House of Representative Committee. But soon after, UCC claimed that a saboteur caused the disaster, absolving itself of any wrong doing. Since then, the sabotage theory has been thoroughly debunked.

April 1985: The GOI files a US $3 billion compensation suit on behalf of the victims in US federal court (presiding over case was Judge Keenan).

May 1986: The case is sent to Indian courts on grounds of forum non-convenience, under the condition that UCC would submit to the jurisdiction of Indian courts.

September 1986: The GIO files a suit against UCC in the Bhopal District Court.

UCC’s lawyers decided to delay all legal proceedings in order to squeeze the Indian government into accepting a low settlement. They:

    • contested the legitimacy of the courts before which they were now required to appear
    • pleaded to have ‘illiterate’ victims’ claims denied
    • threatened to summon every individual survivor (rather than allow a class action suit)
    • threatened to appeal all Indian decisions in US courts
    • denied UCC was a multinational
    • claimed the gas was not ultra-hazardous
    • blamed an unnamed saboteur
    • appealed court orders for humanitarian relief, while professing its concern for the victims

December 1, 1987: The CBI files a charge sheet and summons against Warren Anderson and eleven other accused, including UCC (USA), Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong, and UCIL. Anderson (accused #1) is charged under Indian Penal Code sections 304 [culpable homicide, punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment and fine], 320 [causing grievous hurt punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment and fine], 324 [causing hurt, punishable by 3 years imprisonment and/or fine] and 429 [causing death and poisoning of animals, punishable by 3 years imprisonment and/or fine]. UCC (USA), accused #10, is also charged with culpable homicide.

May or June 16, 1988: The Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of the Bhopal District Court issues fresh summons against Warren Anderson.

July 6, 1988: The CJM of Bhopal issues a letter of request to the American government, seeking permission for the CBI to inspect the safety systems installed at the MIC unit of UCC’s chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia – commonly known as Bhopal’s “sister-plant.”

July 16, 1988: The CJM of Bhopal, K.L. Sisodiya, orders fresh summons to be served to Warren Anderson.

September 24, 1988: One of several summons served to Warren Anderson through Interpol.

November 2, 1988: Erle Slack, spokesman for UCC in Danbury, claims, “Indian courts have no jurisdiction over Mr. Anderson or the company.”

November 15, 1988: The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal issues bailable warrants against Warren Anderson, UCC (USA) and Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong. It is reported that Anderson is unable to be located.

February 9, 1989: The CJM of Bhopal proclaims Anderson an absconder for repeatedly ignoring summons, issues a non-bailable warrant for his arrest, and directs him to be present in court on March 31st, 1989.

February 14, 1989: The American government grants permission to the CBI to inspect the safety systems of UCC’s Institute WV plant, for purposes of comparison of the safety standards in both plants.

February 14 – 15, 1989: While the matter relating to payment of interim compensation was being heard before the Supreme Court of India, UCC and the GOI reached a final settlement of US $470 million, without consulting survivors or survivors’ groups. Survivors were awarded an average of US $500 each, in compensation, far below international compensation standards (and the standards set by Indian Railways for accidents). In exchange:

  • UCC was to be absolved of all civil liabilities
  • Criminal cases against UCC and its officials were to be withdrawn
  • The GOI was to defend the corporation in the event of future suits

Public protest against the unjust settlement was followed by the filing of a number of review and writ petitions against the settlement in the Supreme Court of India by the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangatan (BGPMUS), the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) and other support groups.

Union Carbide shares immediately rocket as stock markets realize the company has escaped lightly.

May 1989: The Supreme Court of India agrees to review the 1989 settlement.

Timeline Index

  1. Timeline: Events of 1969-1984
  2. Timeline: Events of 1984-1989
  3. Timeline: Indian Court Cases 1990-Present
  4. Timeline: Medical History
  5. Timeline: ICJB History
  6. Timeline: Water Contamination & Government Reaction
  7. Timeline: US Court Cases
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