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Bhopal Gas Tragedy: this petition on White House website aims to bring Union Carbide to the book

Catch Team | Updated on: 27 May 2016, 19:29 IST

It has been almost 32 years since the gas leak from the Union Carbide Corp (UCC) factory in Bhopal that killed thouands of people. UCC is yet to face trial before Indian courts. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has not forwarded summons and show-cause notices sent by the courts.

Now, a petition on the White House website, aims to bring UCC to the book. The online petition, requests the US government to serve the notices on Dow Chemical, which now owns UCC, to appear before an Indian court on 13 July.

Titled 'Uphold International Law! Stop Shielding Dow Chemical from Accountability for Corporate Crimes in Bhopal, India', the petition states that the US Department of Justice has "ignored or obstructed" the Indian court's notices.

The petition, which has over 9,000 votes so far, was filed on 15 May.

The White House entertains petitions on a page known as "We the People". If a petition attracts 100,000 signatures within 30 days of filing, it has to be taken up by the White House for further action, and reply with an official update within two months.

Signatures are open for anyone above the age of 13, including non-US citizens.

"We insist that the US govt. meet its obligations under Treaty & international law by immediately serving notice upon Dow to attend court in Bhopal on July 13, 2016."

This, they say, is in contrast to how the DoJ treated an oil leak from BP's pipeline off American coast, making it pay $4 billion in fines and penalties.

What happened since that fateful night

On the night of 2-3 December, 1984, the toxic methyl icocyanade gas leaked from UCC's factory in Bhopal. Now known as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, it is counted among the world's worst industrial accidents. It killed an estimated 25,000 persons and continues to affect at least half a million people, according to activists. Even so, the company has not faced trial.

UCC faces charges of culpable homicide. On 20 December, 2015, Dow Chemical did not appear before a trial court in Bhopal. This was the third such non-appearance. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has sent summons to the company via the Ministry of External Affairs, which has forwarded it to the US DoJ.

According to an NDTV report, the CBI lawyer told the court that the DoJ had some queries about the summons, which the agency has responded.

Following this, the court set 13 July as the next date and also issued a show-cause notice.

The US has also, in the past, denied India's requests to extradite Warren Anderson, who was heading the UCC plant in India at the time of the disaster. Anderson passed away in 2014.

UCC was taken over by Dow Chemical in 2001, and Dow has denied responsibility for UCC's actions.

The Petition

The petition on the White House has gained support from veteran actor Martin Sheen, who had played the role of Warren Anderson in Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, a 2014 feature film on the tragedy.

"The U.S. government could pressure Dow to do the right thing, but instead the Department of Justice has been shielding Dow and Union Carbide from responsibility for over two and a half decades," said Sheen, in his video of support of the petition. "And now, a possible merger between Dow Chemical and DuPont is looming. Once again the baton of ownership will pass hands but the liabilities will be ignored - unless we speak up."

"It would have been impossible for Union Carbide and Dow to thumb their noses at India's courts for almost three decades without the resolute support of U.S. officials," said Adrienne Korwin, campaign organizer for International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal's North America unit, which raised the online petition.

"This support has been clandestine, often unlawful, in contravention of due process, bilateral treaties and international law" Korwin added.

Edited by Sahil Bhalla

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First published: 27 May 2016, 19:29 IST