The case "Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India (1989)" is a significant judgment in the history of Indian jurisprudence, primarily related to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, one of the world's worst industrial disasters. Here's a detailed summary:
- Incident: The Bhopal Gas Tragedy occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. A leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals resulted in a massive loss of life and long-term health complications for the local population.
- Litigants: Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), an American company, was the parent company of UCIL. The Government of India represented the victims and the state.
1. Liability: Determining the liability for the disaster and the extent of compensation.
2. Jurisdiction: Whether Indian courts had jurisdiction over the matter, considering UCC was a foreign entity.
3. Settlement: The terms and conditions of the settlement between UCC and the Government of India.
Supreme Court's Judgement
- Settlement Agreement: In 1989, the Supreme Court of India approved a settlement agreement where Union Carbide agreed to pay $470 million as a full and final settlement of its liabilities.
- Jurisdiction Upheld: The Court upheld its jurisdiction over the case, despite UCC being a foreign corporation.
- Closure of Litigation: The settlement was meant to provide compensation to the victims and also marked the closure of all civil and criminal litigation against the company in India.
- Immunity from Future Litigations: The settlement provided immunity to UCC from future civil and criminal proceedings.
Criticisms and Controversies
- Inadequate Compensation: The settlement amount was criticised for being grossly inadequate considering the scale of the disaster and the long-term health impacts.
- Lack of Accountability: Critics argued that the settlement allowed UCC and its officials to evade responsibility for the disaster.
- Legal Precedent: The case set a controversial precedent regarding corporate liability and the responsibility of multinational corporations in cases of industrial disasters.
- Human Rights vs Corporate Liability: The case became a focal point in debates about corporate liability, environmental law, and human rights.
- International Implications: It had implications for international law, particularly concerning the liability of multinational corporations for cross-border environmental harm.
- Policy Changes: The disaster and subsequent legal battles led to changes in industrial safety regulations and standards, both in India and internationally.
The "Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India" case is a landmark in legal history due to its complexity and its long-lasting implications on environmental law, corporate liability, and international jurisprudence. It remains a subject of study and discussion for its legal, ethical, and humanitarian dimensions.