5.7 The immediate responses to the gas leak at Bhopal
At this stage it is helpful to have some idea of how the different parties involved in Bhopal responded to the gas leak, as it helps to provide the context for the legal proceedings that followed.
Using the links provided and your own independent research, consider the chronology of the response of the various parties involved in the immediate aftermath of the gas leak.
Research links for Activity 9
Union Carbide Bhopal Information Center,(last updated 2011).
M.J. Peterson (2009) ‘Bhopal Plant Disaster, Appendix A: Chronology’, International Dimensions of Ethics Education in Science and Engineering Case Study series.
The evidence indicates that on the night of 2 December the Bhopal police superintendent, Swaraj Puri, had phoned the Bhopal plant on several occasions enquiring about the possibility of a leak from the plant but was reassured that all was fine. A district magistrate phoned the UCIL works manager to alert him to the problem at the plant. The alarm at the plant was sounded at some time between 2 and 2.30 a.m.
News of the gas leak reached UCC in their headquarters in Connecticut at the start of the working day on 3 December, USA time. Communication with Bhopal was difficult. Jackson Browning, the Vice President for Health, Safety and Environmental Programmes, held a press conference at 1 p.m., in which he stated that UCC would be sending medical and technical experts to help the people of Bhopal and to investigate the cause of the incident.
In Bhopal on the afternoon of 3 December the Indian CBI took control of the plant and the scientific team headed by Dr Varadarajan, the director of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), began the investigation two days later on 5 December. The operation to neutralise the remaining MIC was labelled ‘Operation Faith’.
A UCC team entered the plant on 4 December, and spent 24 days in Bhopal helping the team from CSIR to neutralise the remaining MIC and also investigating the cause of the leak. The CBI controlled the site and the UCC team had limited access to tank 610 or the plant records. They could not talk to the plant operators without the CBI’s prior permission. They returned to the USA with various samples and began work on analysing the nature of the gas released and the causes of the leak. Their research formed the basis of the Bhopal Methyl Isocyanate Incident Investigation Team Report of 1985.
When Warren Anderson, the Chairman of UCC, arrived in Bhopal on 7 December, he was placed under house arrest together with the UCIL Chairman, Keshub Mahindra, and the UCIL Managing Director, Vivay Gokhale. They were charged under seven sections of the Indian Penal Code, with, amongst other offences, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and negligent manslaughter, but were immediately released on bail. Anderson was required to leave India. The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh issued a press statement condemning the management of UCC and holding them accountable for the gas leak. On his return to the USA Anderson pledged more aid to the victims on the basis of ‘moral considerations’ only.