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Human right issues and Environment

This article examines the plethora of reasons and answers based on the Bhopal gas disaster. Since the disaster, India has experienced rapid industrialization. While some positive changes in government policy and the behavior of a few industries have taken place to date. This article also states the criminal proceedings and how the constitution and tort took place. Further, it states how the COVID-19 is affecting the victims of the Bhopal gas leak.

Introduction:
The Bhopal disaster is also cited as Bhopal Gas Tragedy, it was an industrial accident. The accident took place at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is considered to be the world's worst industrial disaster. On the night of 2-3 December 1984 around 11 clocks, the plant released approximately 40 tons of toxic Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to toxic gases.

The highly toxic substance made its way into and around the small towns located near the plant.+ Over 20,000 people are estimated to have died from exposure to this gas since 1984, with some 120,000 chronically ill survivors. The first official immediate death toll was 3,598 in 1989. Another estimate is that 8,000 died within two weeks, that an additional 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.

History
In the 1970s, the Indian government initiated policies to encourage foreign companies to invest in the local industry. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was asked to build a plant for the manufacture of Sevin, a pesticide commonly used throughout Asia. As part of the deal, India's government insisted that a significant percentage of the investment come from local shareholders. The government itself had a 22% stake in the company's subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL).

It decided to build a new pesticide formulation factory in India, which would be able to manufacture large quantities of the UCC product Sevin. In 1969, through its subsidiary UCI UCC leased land from the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and got to work creating a new factory in the city of Bhopal. The company built a plant because of the central location and access to transport infrastructure.

The plant was initially approved only for the formulation of pesticides from component chemicals, such as MIC imported from the parent company, in relatively small quantities. However, pressure from competition in the chemical industry led UCIL to implement "backward integration" – the manufacture of raw materials and intermediate products for the formulation of the final product within one facility. This was inherently a more sophisticated and hazardous process.

Legal Effects:
The Indian Government passed the Bhopal Gas leak Act in March 1985, allowing the Government of India to Act as the legal representative of victims of the disaster leading to the beginning of legal proceedings. The Legal proceedings involved UCC, the United States, and Indian government local Bhopal authorities and then disaster victims started immediately after the catastrophe.

One of the main issues which the Bhopal Gas tragedy enlightens is the issue of absolute liability.
This issue was elaborately discussed in the case of M.C Mehta v Union of India. This principle of absolute liability states that when an enterprise is liable to compensate for such activity then the enterprise is liable to compensate for such harm and that there 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 its part. In such industries, the principle of safe design would be that one does not guard merely against the most predictable, routine type of accident.

Rather one tries to anticipate the worst that could happen, even if it is highly unlikely, and not only guard against it, but prepare to contain it and make sure that there is no way for that even to take place.

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is also in a way responsible for the passing of the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 which provides for compulsory insurance of any unit or factory undertaking a hazardous activity. In the light of the events that followed Bhopal, it is clear that there is a need for a proper mechanism of compensation and any kind of capon liability must be removed as it would be unconstitutional. If the predictable, routine type of accidents. Rather one tries to anticipate the worst that could happen, even if it is highly unlikely, and not only guard against it, but prepare to contain it to make sure that there is no way for that event to take place.

This is the principle of absolute liability and liability can be fixed even if there is no negligence on part of the accused. This principle of absolute liability in India evolved primarily because of the awakening that the Bhopal Gas Disaster and the Oleum Gas leak case gave.

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is also in a way responsible for the passing of the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 which provides for compulsory insurance of any unit or factory undertaking a hazardous activity. In the light of events that followed Bhopal, it is clear that there is a need for a proper mechanism of compensation and any kind of cap on liability must be removed as it would be unconstitutional.

The criminal proceeding was initiated in front of the chief judicial magistrate in Bhopal. The proceedings were initiated under Section 304 A, and Sections 336, 337, and 338 read with Section 35 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 304 A deals with causing death by negligence. Sections 336, 337, and Section 338 deal with the offenses of endangering life and personal safety
of others. This is read along with Section 35 which deals with the aspect of common
intention.

On 28 January 2020, Supreme Court held that the curative petition should be examined by the government for more compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims over and above the $470 million paid by Union Carbide. The CBI moved the Supreme Court and wanted it to restore the criminal charge under Section 304 Part II of the IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) against the accused. Those convicted included former Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra.
Major laws passed by the government are listed below:
  • The Environment Protection Act was passed authorizing the central government to take measures to protect and improve environmental quality, set standards, and inspect industrial units.
     
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act provided that insurance and relief should be given to Bhopal gas victims.
     
  • The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, established to an appellate authority to hear appeals concerning restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes are disallowed, subject to safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
     
  • The National Green Tribunal Act provides for the establishment of a tribunal for Expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and for giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property.

This issue is not only related to the present situation which was there at the time when the gas was leaked but this issue affect the coming generation, so this is very essential to make stringent law related to the gas leak situation. That is why there is a need of constitutional tort and absolute liability.

The recent case of Visakhapatnam gas leak also referred as the Vizag gas leak, in Andhra Pradesh was an industrial accident where the gas named Styrene gas from LG Polymer plant has leaked and sprade over a radius of about 3km (covering 5 villages). Around 800 people were reportedly admitted the hospital.

Styrene is used to make insulation, pipes, automobile parts, and printing cartridges and copy machine tones, etc. The plant was shut since late March due to coronavirus lockdown. The central government is mobilizing specialized CBRN teams from Pane Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear team.

Conclusion:
Environmental and human rights are closely related. The Bhopal gas tragedy is still considered to be the worst industrial disaster. For the pretension of this type of tragedy in the future, the government has taken preventive measures. After this type of tragedy, the government also made a proper mechanism for compensation to the victims. It is unjustified to leave even a single victim without providing relief.

Bhopal gas tragedy is the best lesson to learn from and this large magnitude disaster should be declared as unconstitutional. Linking human rights and the mechanisms of protection that is provided by human rights law.

Recently the analysis has been made by the NGO’s and they state that 75% of covid dead in Bhopal are gas victims. The NGO has sent the reports to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh specifying the death rate which is 75% of the gas victims who were killed by a coronavirus and 81% of them had Comorbidities attributed to exposure to deadly MIC. They also motioned that an additional 5% of the dead are children of gas victims.

Written By:
  1. Anushka Shitoley, Renaissance Law College, Indore
  2. Shivani Patel, Renaissance Law College, Indore

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