Bhopal The Carbide Timeline
|Artist Pete Dunne’s Untitled. Dunne was living in a small town less than 100km from Bhopal at the time of the disaster|
In 1917, a merger of four companies in USA creates the Union Carbide & Carbon Corp., makers of carbon rods for street lights, electrodes for furnaces and Eveready batteries.
1920 Expanding into chemicals, Union Carbide establishes the first commercial ethylene plant.1947 The company acquires a facility in Institute, West Virginia. The Kanawha River Valley site will be dubbed “Chemical Valley” as chemical companies cluster there.1960 Production of the trademarked insecticides Sevin (carbaryl) and, later, Temik (aldicarb) commences at the Institute plant. A key intermediate chemical is the highly reactive MIC, or methyl isocyanate.
1969 Union Carbide India Ltd. (UCIL) opens a facility in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, producing insecticides for the agricultural market in India. The formulations are made with imported chemicals.1972 – Construction of a full-scale chemical plant begins in Bhopal.On February 4, 1975, a cable sent by Deputy Chief of Mission David T Schneider from the US Embassy in New Delhi shows that the Government of India allowed Union Carbide, USA to bypass the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and obtain loans from American Exim Bank instead of an Indian financing agency (as per Wikileaks “Kissinger Cables”)
On September 11, 1975 a cable of from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the US Embassy in India shows the support the US government gave to Union Carbide, USA in securing loans from the US Exim Bank for its Bhopal operations.
On April 20, 1976 the then US Ambassador in India William Saxbe in a cable expresses satisfaction at the dilution of FERA guidelines so that Union Carbide can continue to hold majority stakes in its Indian subsidiary.
1977 The Bhopal plant, with a capacity of more than 5,000 tonnes, starts making Sevin. While carbaryl is formulated on site, MIC is still imported from the plant in West Virginia. Zonal regulations in Bhopal are changed so that Carbide could set up a plant, manufacturing deadly pesticides in the heart of the city’s most densely populated areas, called the Kali Parade Ground, just like the Lal Parade Ground in Jahangirabad area of Bhopal.
Many of the relatives of the politicians and bureaucrats were employed by the Carbide. Union Carbide rented a beautiful guesthouse at the Shyamla Hills, which was being used by several people like Mr. Arjun Singh, Mr Madhav Rao Scindia. At one instance the Congress party held a convention in Bhopal and used it as a place of stay for several Ministers.
1980 – Production of MIC commences in Bhopal in February, negating the need for imports from the U.S. facility.
In December, 1981, a gas leak at the Union Carbide plant killed one worker.
In January 1982, another gas leak led to 25 workers being hospitalized. Workers protested that there was design defect in the plant that made it unsafe. Union Carbide sent its US experts for an audit in Bhopal. At 15 places in their report, they had written that safety measures are not proper and it could have a ‘runaway’ reaction.
In September 1982, UCIL de-linked the alarm from the siren warning system so that only their employees would be warned and not neighbouring residents. A year later, another leak from the plant in which 100 residents had to be hospitalized.
March 4, 1983, Bhopal lawyer Shahnawaz Khan served a legal notice on UCIL alleging ignoring safety norms of Union Carbide. April 29, 1983, in a written reply, UCIL’s Works Manager denied the allegations as baseless.
1983 – Severe drought contributes to rapidly declining Sevin sales in India. Production at the Bhopal plant falls to 1,600 tonnes.
October, 1984 – With the plant under performing, the MIC unit is shut down. Operators switch the unit from “operating mode” to “standby mode.” Two MIC storage tanks, 610 and 611, contain a combined 83 tonnes of toxic, highly volatile MIC.
August 27, 1984 UCC India works manager J Mukund (one of the accused convicted later), sent a message to US asking for advice about coating the pipes. The US-based parent company sent him a message saying that the best material for piping would be too expensive and too difficult to acquire.
Between 1983 & 1984, the safety manuals were re-written to permit among other things switching off the units that cooled the MIC gas and prevent chemical reactions.
December 3, 1984, gas leaks.
On December 4, 1984, Warren M. Anderson, the chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation boarded a plane at USA for Bombay, where he met with Keshub Mahindra, board chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd., and its managing director, V.P. Gokhale. The three decided to go to Bhopal, survey the situation, meet with Arjun Singh, the chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh, and offer interim relief and a permanent damage settlement. The three were arrested as they stepped off the plane in Bhopal. Mr. Anderson was detained for several hours and then flown back to New Delhi; the other two were put under a form of house arrest at Union Carbide’s guest house in Bhopal for nine days. In New Delhi Mr. Anderson met with American and Indian officials, but little progress was made toward a settlement, so he flew back to USA.
In March 1985 Indian Government passed a law prohibiting Bhopal victims to pursue court case against Union Carbide, taking the power in it’s own hand.
February 14-15, 1989 Government of India presented a mutual agreement proposal to Supreme Court, proposing that Union Carbide pays 470 Million dollars (Approx. 715 Crore Rupees) in place of 3.3 Billion Dollars (Approx. 4500 Crore Rupees) claimed in the court case. That settled the case of culpable homicide beside settling the compensation amount. The judgement on culpable homicide was challenged in the court by Bhopal activists and reversed, but the compensation amount remained the same.
Union Carbide informed its share holders in a note that the case has been settled at a very economic cost, of about 50 cents per share, that is about Rs 8/- (In 1989 dollar was Rs 16/-) When this compensation was distributed to the victims, 90 percent victims received a sum of Rs. 25,000/-. That too due to the fact that by the time of distribution of this compensation in 2002, dollar had appreciated to Rs 45-46.
The Supreme Court Chief Justice R.S. Pathak who gave the nod of court to this settlement was appointed judge in the International Court at Holland. It is widely believed to be a reward of this settlement.
1994 – The company sells its 50.9 per cent interest in Union Carbide India Ltd.
In 1996, Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India, A H Ahmadi, passed a judgment that converted section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian penal code to 304-A (causing death by negligence) to try the case. After retirement, Justice Ahmadi became the lifetime chairman of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust and Research Centre which has funds worth millions of rupees. Those millions, paid by Union Carbide for the poor victims, were under his control.
2001 – Union Carbide becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Co.
In October 2006, as per Wikileaks’ “Kissinger Cables”, during the CEO forum event Government of India officials including former Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia stated that they welcomed further Dow investment in India and did not believe that Dow was responsible for the disaster site clean-up.
In 2006 Congress spokesperson Ashishek Manu Singhvi, a Senior Supreme Court lawyer and then Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and present Finance Minister of India Arun Jaitley, also a senior advocate, advised DOW that it had no liability in the Bhopal gas tragedy
On September 18, 2007 US Ambassador David Mulford urged the Government of India to “drop its claims against Dow” in a cable. In reply, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia assures the Ambassador that the Government of India does not hold Dow responsible for the cleanup but is unable to withdraw its claims against Dow because of “active and vocal” NGOs. According to the cable, Ahluwalia then advised the Ambassador to discuss the issue of Dow Chemical’s Bhopal liabilities with Finance Minister Chidambaram.
On 7 June 2010, Bhopal District Court Chief Justice Mohan Tiwari sentenced each of the seven accused to two years of imprisonment, that is 35 minutes for each of the 25 thousand dead in Bhopal. That does not account for the five lakh injured and disabled for life. The accused were released immediately after the judgement at a bail amount of Rs 25000/- each. That is Rs 1/- per victim.
On 29 Sept,2014 Warren Anderson, CEO Union Carbide at the time of Bhopal Gas disaster, died in a Florida nursing home. He was 92 and a free man inspite of repeated attempts of Bhopal NGOs to bring him back to justice at Bhopal. Although he appeared to be a prisoner of conscience as per this report