The night of 2-3 December 1984, was the most unfortunate night for the Bhopal,
in fact not only for Bhopal but for the whole world. Thousands of people lost
their lives that night and many are suffering the consequences of the tragedy
even now. The incident was caused because of the leakage of Methyl Isocyanate (MiC)
gas from the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) plant.
Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case StudyBackground
The Union Carbide Corporation, an American enterprise established a pesticide
plant in India because of its central location. The plant was supposed to
produce Sevin, a pesticide. Union Carbide and the Indian Government had a deal,
and under this idea, the Union Carbide had a 50.9% share and the Indian
Investors had a 40.1% share. The plant was named as The Union Carbide India
UCIL started its production of pesticide in 1979. While this pesticide was
produced, a toxic liquid was also produced i.e., Methyl Isocyanate (MIC). Since
MIC is a very toxic chemical it required great maintenance.
Around 1:00 a.m on 4th December 1984, when the MIC gas started swallowing up the
whole of Bhopal people who were sleeping peacefully started feeling the change
in the air. They ran for their lives but couldn't escape their death. Some who
were able to save their lives weren't able to save themselves from the coming
disabilities. All this happened because of leakage of the MIC gas from the tank
Earlier, too, complaints were being made about the maintainability of the plant,
of how MIC was leaking in small amounts. The previous incidents of leakage had
also caused the death of some people and left others severely injured. But, the
authorities paid no attention to it. The machines were worn out but no
replacement was there.
The Gas Disaster
Around midnight on 3-4 December 1984, the MIC gas got leaked from the plant and
got mixed with the fresh air in Bhopal. Suddenly, people started feeling uneasy,
started vomiting, were having trouble while breathing, people started dying
within a few minutes of inhaling the toxic gas. It was not only the human beings
that suffered but animals, too, suffered and lost their lives.
People, in large numbers, were rushed to the hospital but at that time no doctor
knew about the actual cause of death. No one knew about the leakage of the MIC.
They just had a hunch about some leakage but exactly didn't know about the
leakage of MIC gas. Since doctors couldn't operate properly without knowing the
exact cause of the accident, so many people lost their lives.
It was reported that nearly 3000 people lost their lives and more than 6 lacs
were severely injured. The survivors survived with permanent respiratory
problems, and other complications. Children who weren't even born at that time
were born with some health issues.
The International Medical Commission
After the tragedy took place there was no proper health aid provided to the
victims. The company was involved in lawsuits and was on the verge of closing
down its business. On the other hand, the Indian Government had to face the
wrath of the families of the victims and the other people all over India on a
lack of carrying out an investigation and providing medical aid to the
For the medical personnel to provide correct medical treatment to the victims
they had to know the exact cause of the tragedy. So that based on the cause they
could start their operation. A connection had to be established between the
cause of the accident and the health attributes caused by the accident.
In 1992, Permanent Peoples' Tribunal suggested the formation of an international
commission to provide better medical treatment to the victims of the Bhopal
tragedy. Later on, in 1993 Bhopal Group for Information and Action laid down a
proposal for the same.
Finally, in the year 1993 International Medical Commission on Bhopal (IMCB) was
organized to provide medical assistance to the survivors of the Bhopal tragedy
of 1984. IMCB was a constitution of 15 professionals from 12 countries having
expertise in the field of:
- Environmental health
- Respiratory medicine
IMCB had co-chairpersons and they were, Dr. Rosalie Bertell and Gianni Tognoni.
The main aim of the International Medical Commission on Bhopal was to provide
some relief to the victims and to suggest some ways to prevent such disasters in
The work was divided into 8 areas, and they are:
Review of published literature
- Family Life
- Medical care
- Drug Therapies
- Accident Analysis
A plan was laid out for investigation to know the actual cause of the exposure.
This plan has three phases.
In this phase, the symptom report was analyzed and distance was
used as a substitute for exposure. It stated that respiratory and neurologic
problems were the aftermath health effects of the exposure.
Lung function and respiratory organs were assessed. According to
the report, there were excessive respiratory issues and the functioning
capability of the lungs was reduced with each passing minute.
It was noticed that to know the exact level of risk factors involved it was
necessary to analyze the exposure accurately. Also, to provide long-term care
and medical aid it was mandatory for them to know exactly what they were dealing
This was the last phase of the process. In this phase, the victims
were assessed individually based on exposure time, location and distance.
Finally, the reports were compared to the findings from the distance surrogate
to determine whether their association is better than that of distance alone.
Immediate effects of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy The leak and its effectsMethyl Isocyanate (MIC):
- The colorless liquid used for the creation of pesticides.
- Is highly toxic.
- Since it is extremely reactive to water, it requires good maintenance.
- A small amount of water is sufficient to increase pressure for converting the liquid into a toxic gas.
The UCIL had to store three tanks of MIC and its temperature was to be
maintained below zero degrees celsius. Also, it was to be kept under pressure
with the help of inert nitrogen. But, before the few days of the accident the
tank, E106, in which the MIC was kept couldn't hold the pressure any longer
resulting in stopping of production for some time.
The tank even after being worn out couldn't stop the production for a much
longer time. The production process resumed after some time. But, on the night
of 2-3 December 1984, because of a lack of maintainability, the water broke out
from the connecting pipe and started getting mixed with the MIC liquid. This
resulted in a strong heating reaction because of which pressure at a splitting
pace was created and the MIC gas got released.
People who were leaving nearby started getting affected by the harmful gas. They
started having a breathing problem, irritation in eyes, chemical burns on the
skin, contraction of lungs. They were then taken to the hospital but without the
main reason for the accident, the doctors couldn't operate correctly.
Cause of Leakage
Though the main reason for the tragedy was the mixing of water with the Methyl
Isocyanate because of leaks in the connecting pipes yet it was not the only
reason that contributed towards the happening of the tragedy. There are many
other reasons which contributed to this unfortunate event. All these small
reasons are because of the lack of proper maintenance.
Following are the reasons that, too, have contributed to the Bhopal tragedy:
- An inspection team came from Danbury, the United States to the Bhopal plant and found 61 safety problems. Out of these 61 problems, 31 were major.
- Main refrigeration and cooling system were closed down before 150 days of the accident. To lower the cost, the number of workers working were reduced.
- Also, the specialized training was not given to the unskilled workers so that they could at least have an idea about the consequences of their actions.
- As already mentioned, before this major tragedy, there had already been minor leakages which cost the life of one worker and others were injured.
- No supervisor was there for his night shift.
- The pressure control valve of the tank E610 had not been working properly for over a month.
- Negligence on the part of the maintenance authorities.
- There was no backup plan in case of emergencies.
Another important thing to notice is that if the fire or the rescue squad had an
idea of how to prevent the gas from spreading, or if there was any antidote
chemical that could have been used to bring down the effects of MIC gas then,
maybe some lives could have been saved.
The root cause was the lack of management on the part of the authorities. Also,
it's been said that the company had not informed all the concerned authorities
about the emission of MIC gas. Had some authorities known about the gas maybe
they could have prepared some backup strategies in case of a crisis.
Toxicology of MIC
Methyl Isocyanate is highly toxic. The American Conference of Government
Industrial Hygienists stated that the level up to which a worker could be
exposed to MIC without any harmful effects is 0.02ppm. As soon as the level is
0.4ppm it is toxic by inhalation, or by ingestion. At 5ppm, most people cannot
detect it but because of symptoms, they get a warning.
The symptoms of exposure includes:
When exposure level is above 21ppm it can result in:
- Chest pain
- Irritation in the eyes
- Breathing problem
- Irritation in the nose and throat
- Burning of skin
A condition that causes inflammation of the lungs
A condition caused by the accumulation of excessive fluid in the
lungs, making it difficult to breathe
It means damage to the air sacs in the lungs resulting in shortness
of breath Therefore, storing methyl isocyanate requires proper care and caution,
and especially when comes to water extra precautions must be taken. Methyl
Isocyanate is very sensitive to water. It can be stored in glass or stainless
steel, and temperature should be below 40-degree celsius or 104-degree
Attributed diseases to the gas exposureThe attributed diseases to gas exposure are as follows:
- Ophthalmic Problems:
The MIC gas irritated the eyes of the people. MIC gas
caused burning, watering, and photophobia, redness of the eye, swelling of the
- Respiratory and Pulmonary Problems:
Inhalation of MIC gas resulted in shortness
of breath, suffocation and chest pain. When examined it was found that some
victims had suffered necrotizing lesions in their respiratory organs.
- Reproductivity Toxicity:
Gas leak resulted in high-risk factors to the fetus
and it not only the gas leak that increased risk but the factors like stress and
ingestion of drugs by the mothers. Genotoxicity: The MIC gas had affected the
genetic information of the victims within their cells which had increased their
possibility of having cancer.
- Neuromuscular Toxicity:
It was found that the survivors of the accident had
neuromuscular symptoms like numbness, pain, aches, and sensation of needles
The victims suffered many other health problems like carcinogenicity,
immunotoxicity, psychological and neurobehavioral toxicity.
After the accident, many cases were filed on behalf of the victims since there
was a problem in claiming compensation, and many people, especially the ones
having low financial status, couldn't afford to fight the case for a long time.
These cases were filed against UCC in Bhopal as well as in the USA. An effort
was also made to settle the matter outside of the court but it wasn't
Then, after some time passed, the Indian Parliament passed The Bhopal Gas Leak
Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985. According to Section 3 of the Act,
the government of India had the power to file cases on behalf of every citizen
who was entitled to claim the compensation. The government by Section 9 of the
Act introduced "The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration And Processing of
Claims) Scheme, 1985".
The Indian Government filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court of
NewYork against UCC. But, the UCC pleaded that filing the lawsuit in an American
Court was not convenient.
They pleaded on the grounds of forum inconvenient (it means that the Court can
refuse to take jurisdiction when the parties have more convenient forums to go
to). UCC said that since the accident took place in Bhopal and all the evidence
was there only so it was more convenient to try in Indian Courts.
So, Keenon J. accepted the plea of UCC and a new case was filed in the District
Court of Bhopal. The District Court ordered UCC to pay a sum of Rs 350 crore to
the victims. Next, UCC filed an appeal in the Madhya Pradesh High Court against
the judgment of Bhopal District Court.
This resulted in a decrease in the
"interim compensation" from Rs 350 crore to Rs 250 crore. Simultaneously UCC
tried to settle the matter directly with the gas victims outside the court. But,
M.W. Deo J. of Bhopal District Court put an interim order on UCC to not to make
any settlement with any victim until further orders of the Court.
Finally, after the propagation of the rule of Absolute liability, the Court held
UCC liable for the Bhopal tragedy. Though people had their doubts that the
Indian Judiciary won't be able to handle the situation. They thought that the
wrongdoers would escape from their liability under the rule of Strict liability
but it didn't happen. The Indian Judiciary brought fair justice to the victims.
On 14th and 15th February 1989, the Supreme Court in Union Carbide Corporation
v. Union of India  ordered UCC to pay a sum of $470 million (Rs 750 crores)
to the victims.
Principle of Absolute Liability
This liability is also known as "No-Fault Liability".
Absolute liability is a liability where the accused is held liable but without
any exception of getting excused from the liability. Normally, a person can be
held liable only when he had mens rea (guilty mind) but in the case of absolute
liability, a person can be held liable even if he had no intention of committing
The principle of absolute liability is similar to strict liability. In the case
of strict liability, a person keeps something dangerous with him, and he knows
that even the slightest mistake would cause a release of that thing resulting in
the death of human beings. So, even if he took proper care and caution but still
the thing escaped resulting in the death of a man, he can be held liable under
The principle of strict and absolute liability differ only at one point. While
on one hand under strict liability, a person is having options to escape the
lability so arisen but, on the other hand under absolute liability a person has
no such options available.
Rylands v. Fletcher
This doctrine of Strict liability was laid down in Rylands v. Fletcher  by
- The defendant paid the contractor to build a reservoir on his land.
- The contractors while doing their work discovered old coal shafts in the ground.
- They decided not to do anything and carried on with their work.
- The defendant didn't know anything about this.
- Later on, when the reservoir was filled with water the shaft broke and the water started bursting out of the reservoir.
- As a result, the neighbor's mine was flooded.
- The respondent (neighbor) then filed a suit against the defendant and claimed damages.
The House of Lords propounded the Doctrine of Strict Liability in this case
stating that even if the accused did not have any intention of causing any harm
to others yet he would be held liable for the same. This was so because of his
mistake harm was caused.
Following are the words used by Blackburn J. while propounding the rule: 
"We think that the rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes
brings on his lands and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it
escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, prima facie
answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape. He
can excuse himself by showing that the escape was owing to the plaintiff's
default; or perhaps that the escape was the consequence of vis major, or the act
of God: but as nothing of this sort exists here, it is unnecessary to inquire
what excuse would be sufficient."
Another important feature of Strict liability is that for the applicability of
this rule the use of land should be non-natural.
M.C. Mehta v. Union of India
The Doctrine of Absolute Liability was introduced in this case  by P.N.
- The defendant, Shri Ram Food and Fertilizer Industry belonging to Delhi Cloth Mills Ltd. produced dangerous chemicals.
- M.C. Mehta had already filed cases against this industry demanding closure of units of this industry.
- On December 4, the oleum gas leaked from one of the units of the industry.
- Many people lost their lives in this accident including an advocate practicing in the Tis Hazari Court.
- It is believed that the leakage was caused because of mechanical and human errors.
- Not even two days after the accident, there was another minor leakage of oleum gas from the connecting pipes.
District Court ordered Shriram industry to stop their production of lethal gases
and chemicals. M.C. Mehta filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under Article
32 of the Indian Constitution. Judgment:
It was the second case of leakage of toxic gas after the leakage of MIC gas from
Carbide plant in Bhopal within one year. The Supreme Court knew that if they
applied the Doctrine of Strict liability which was laid down in Rylands v.
Fletcher case then the industries involved in hazardous work will escape
liability by using an exception to the rule of the strict article.
Therefore, the Apex Court decided to introduce a new rule which will align the
Indian circumstances. It laid down the rule of Absolute liability which did not
have exceptions available to a person under strict liability. The court held the
defendant was liable under the rule of absolute liability.
The Court held that the petitioners could claim compensation for the same on
behalf of the victims after filing an action in an appropriate court.
The Court, while justifying the rule gave the following two reasons:
An industry knows all about its operations that are being carried out while
producing commodities. It is, therefore, the industry's responsibility to have
resources and safeguards in case of any danger.
When an industry is involved in a dangerous or hazardous activity for profit
then it owes an obligation towards the public for their safeguard. Therefore, in
case of an accident, it has to compensate for the sufferers.
Bhagwati C.J. while laying down the new principal gave the following statement:
"We are of the view that an enterprise which is engaged in a hazardous or
inherently dangerous industry which poses a potential threat to the health and
safety of the persons working in the factory and residing in the surrounding
areas owes an absolute and nondelegable duty to the community to ensure that no
harm results to anyone on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous activity
which it has undertaken.
The enterprise must be held to be under an obligation to provide that the
hazardous or inherently dangerous activity in which it is engaged must be
conducted with the highest standards of safety and if any harm results on
account of such activity, the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate
for such harm and it should be no answer to the enterprise to say that it had
taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on
The Court gave the following statement as well: 
"Where an enterprise is engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous activity
and harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such
hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting, for example, in the escape
of toxic gas, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all
those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any
of the exceptions which operate vis-a-vis the tortious principle of strict
liability under the rule of Rylands v. Fletcher."
Enactment of Acts
Even after so many years of the accident people living in Bhopal, especially in
the places near the plant, are still being affected till date. They haven't
escaped from the consequences of the accident yet. Even now, children who are
being born have some kind of problem which is about the accident.
The Government to prevent future environmental hazards caused because of the
actions of human beings has decided to implement laws that would protect the
environment. Laws that would ensure that in case of disputes some authority is
there for a speedy trial.
The Environment Protection Act, 1986
The Environment Protection Act was enacted in the year 1986 after 2 years of the
Bhopal tragedy. The main purpose of the Act is to safeguard the environment and
prevent future hazards. It is said to be implemented based on the United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972.
The Act contains five chapters and twenty-six sections. This Act is concerned
with the protection of the environment, human beings, plants and animals, and
prevention of any kind of future hazard like Bhopal tragedy.
This Act is also known as an Umbrella Act because it makes the Union and the
State work in coordination for the various other laws like the Water Act and the
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
This Act provides speedy trial to the cases related to matters concerned with
environmental protection. In case of any violation of environmental law, or case
human beings require protection against the use of hazardous chemicals this Act
is applicable. The main purpose of The National Green Tribunal Act is to provide
speedy disposal of cases.
This Act has five chapters and thirty-eight sections. This owns its established
to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which provides for "Right to a healthy
The Factories Act
The Factories Act, 1948 was enacted before the Bhopal accident. But, the
provisions of this Act are in favor of the workers involved in factories,
industries, and mines. The main purpose of this Act is to ensure the welfare of
the workers, to improve the working conditions for the workers and also, it
provides special provisions for women and children involved in the factories.
The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991
According to the Public Liability Insurance Act,1991, a person can claim relief
in case of an accident caused because of keeping any hazardous chemicals. The
Act provides public liability insurance. This Act is based on "No-Fault
Liability". This means that it is the responsibility of the person to compensate
for another irrespective of the fact that he was careful enough to avoid any
kind of accident.
Widened scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that every person has a right to
life and personal liberty. Unless a court order, a person cannot be deprived of
this right. This Article is considered as the "mini-constitution". It includes
many other rights within itself like, Right to Privacy, Right to Shelter, Right
to Information. The Apex Court of India has widened the scope of Article 21 from
time to time and by making 'Right to a clean and healthy environment' a
fundamental right it added more to its dimensions.
The Supreme Court in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar
 held that the
citizens of India have a fundamental right of living in a free pollution
environment for their full enjoyment of life. This even compelled the local
authorities to take measures to decrease the rate of pollution in their areas.
In Rural Litigation and Environment Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar
 the Supreme Court admitted a Public Interest Litigation under
Article 32 of the Indian
Constitution and ordered some limestone quarries to close down their quarries.
It was held that only those quarries which were fit for operating their business
and caused less adverse effect could carry out their work. The fitness of a
quarry was decided after an inspection.
Initially, there was no provision regarding the protection of the environment
but with time, the Supreme Court realized its importance and incorporated it as
a fundamental right. There are other provisions, too, in the Indian Constitution
that direct the State and the citizens to protect the environment. These
provisions include Article 39(b), 47, 48, 49, 48 A and 51 A (g) Amendment in
According to Section 15(1) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 if a person
violates any provision of the Environment Protection Act then he shall be
punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years, or with fine
which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both. And, in case the offender
continues to violate the Act then he has to pay an additional fine of Rs 5000
every day from the date of conviction till he stops violating it.
Section 15(2) states that in case the violation continues beyond a period of one
year then he can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7
Introducing New Legislative RulesHazardous Rules, 2008
The Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989 was enacted under the
Environment Protection Act, 1986. Later on, it was amended in 2000 and then in
In 2008, the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling & Transboundary Movement)
Rules, 2008 superseded the Hazardous Wastes, 1989 and its amendments.
The Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008
is concerned with the proper management in handling storing, collecting, and
disposing of the 'hazardous wastes'. The Schedule 1, 2 and 3 of the Rule divides
hazardous wastes into different categories. The definition of 'hazardous wastes'
under this Rule does not include exhaust gases, biomedical wastes, wastewater,
Chemical Accident Rules 1996
The production process of different commodities involves dealing with many
dangerous chemicals. The use of these chemicals, if proper care and caution is
not taken, involves a highlevel risk in case of any mishap. Therefore, the
government of India introduced Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning,
Preparedness, and Response) Rules, 1996, so that in case of any emergency people
would know exactly what to do.
Under these rules a Central Crisis Group, State Crisis Group and a District
Crisis Group were to be formed, and these groups would deal with chemical
mishaps and provide guidance in dealing with the issue. A list of hazardous
chemicals has also been mentioned in the Chemical Accident Rules, 1996.
No matter how many years have passed, the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy can
still be seen today. Even after holding UCC liable the loss of those people who
lost their lives and the ones who are still suffering cannot be measured. Though
it is important for the government to promote globalization it should ensure
that there are no risks involved. Also, it is the need of the hour that the laws
made are implemented in the best way possible because nothing is more important
than the lives of the people.