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Bhopal gas tragedy: Tainted company continued to sell products discreetly in India, says report

New DelhiEdited By: C KrishnasaiUpdated: Dec 04, 2022, 04:43 PM IST
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Nearly three years after the toxic gas leak in 1984, the company set up a chemical trading firm – Visa Petrochemicals Private Limited – in Mumbai and discreetly sold its products for the next 14 years to several firms owned by the central and state governments, and few private companies

American firm Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), whose factory’s toxic gas leak in India’s Bhopal state killed more than 15,000 people, continued to sell its products in India while evading criminal trial, the internal company records accessed by The Reporters’ Collective (TRC) for Al Jazeera revealed.

The UCC’s India unit was shut down and most of its subsidiaries were seized after a Bhopal court declared then-CEO Warren Anderson a fugitive for not appearing in the criminal trial.

According to the report, nearly three years after the toxic gas leak in 1984, the company set up a chemical trading firm – Visa Petrochemicals Private Limited – in Mumbai and discreetly sold its products for the next 14 years to several firms owned by the central and state governments, and few private companies.

Among shockingly, the buyers included the government of Madhya Pradesh.

The internal records revealed by the TRC showed that when the Indian court was going after the UCC for causing one of world’s deadliest industrial disasters, the firm set up three shell companies in India, the United States and Singapore.

These companies were described by the UCC as “front” and “dummy” companies or “extended arms”.

The report states that these firms took orders from Indian customers on UCC’s behalf, rebranded its products, channelled them through multiple ports and supplied them.

Among the materials sold were related to household products like telephone cables and paints.

According to the internal documents, UCC admitted in its internal business plan that the dummy companies were erected as “a legal requirement” to help it keep its “distance from India”.

The Bhopal court at that time did not declare the future sale of UCC products illegal, but it ordered that all its assets be seized, including products and goods meant for sale.

Moreover, it is being claimed that the government was aware of UCC’s backdoor arrangement, as it was privately informed by the company when it participated in the tenders.

This arrangement was said to have continued till 2002, a year after American giant Dow Chemical bought all assets of UCC for $9.3 billion.

According to the records, the company sold more than 55,800 tonnes of wires and cables in the Indian market between 1995 and 2000.

UCC and Dow Chemical are yet to respond to this report.

On the night of December 2, 1984, harmful Methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas started leaking from a nearby Union Carbide pesticide plant, eventually resulting in the Bhopal Gas tragedy.

It is estimated that 3,800 people were killed instantly, mostly from the population of poorer, informal settlements that surrounded the factory. Over time, horrifying numbers of those who suffered life-long health issues would become known.

A 2019 report by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) said at least 30 tonnes of the poisonous gas affected more than 600,000 workers and nearby inhabitants. It added the disaster was among the world’s “major industrial accidents after 1919”.

(With inputs from agencies)

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