History of Union Carbide India Limited
Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was a diversified manufacturing company incorporated in 1934. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) became one of the first U.S. companies to invest in India when UCC acquired shares in UCIL in 1934. Employing approximately 9,000 people at the height of its business operations, UCIL operated 14 plants in five divisions. UCIL's annual sales were nearly $200 million and UCIL shares were publicly traded on the Calcutta Stock Exchange, with UCC owning just over half the shares. The other stockholders included Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India.
Situated in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhopal plant was built in 1969 and a production facility was added in 1979. The plant produced pesticides for use in India to help the country’s agricultural sector increase its productivity and contribute more significantly to meeting the food needs of one of the world's most heavily populated regions. The plant never resumed normal operations after the December 1984 gas leak.
The design, engineering and construction of the Bhopal plant was a UCIL project from beginning to end. The project took eight years to complete (from 1972 to 1980). It involved hundreds of Indian engineers and designers from UCIL and major Indian engineering firms, dozens of Indian subcontractors and thousands of Indian construction workers. UCC did not design, construct or operate the Bhopal plant. All of the decisions with respect to the plant and its design, construction, and operation were made either by UCIL or mandated by Government of India (GOI) policies and directives.
As found by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York in its 1987 decision dismissing the Bhopal gas disaster litigation in the U.S.: “In short, the plant has been constructed and managed by Indians in India.” The Court found that “UCC’s participation was limited and its involvement in plant operations terminated long before the  accident.” With respect to alleged pollution at the Bhopal plant site, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded in its 2013 decision that individuals “living near the Bhopal plant may well have suffered terrible and lasting injuries from the wholly preventable disaster for which someone is responsible. After nine years of contentious litigation and discovery, however, all that the evidence in this case demonstrates that UCC is not that entity.”
In 1994, UCC sold its entire stake in UCIL to Mcleod Russel India Limited of Calcutta, which renamed the company Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL) -- a company that continues to exist today as one of India’s leading battery and flashlight manufacturers. The proceeds from the UCIL sale -- some $90 million -- were placed in a trust and exclusively used to fund a hospital in Bhopal to provide specialist care to victims of the tragedy.
In 1998, the Madhya Pradesh State Government (MPSG), which owns and had been leasing the property to EIIL, cancelled the lease, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any remediation. Click here to view the MPSG press release.
Frequently Asked Questions about Union Carbide India Limited
1. Who owned the Bhopal plant at the time of the incident and who owns it now?
A. The Bhopal plant was designed, built, owned and operated by UCIL, an Indian company in which UCC held just over half of the stock. Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India held the rest of the stock. In 1994, UCC sold its entire interest in UCIL to Mcleod Russel India Limited, which renamed the company Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL). In 1998, the MPSG, which owns and had been leasing the property to EIIL, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.
In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York concluded that UCC was not the entity responsible for any environmental pollution resulting from operation of the UCIL plant prior to the disaster. The Second Circuit concluded: "[M]any others living near the Bhopal plant may well have suffered terrible and lasting injuries from a wholly preventable disaster for which someone is responsible. After nine years of contentious litigation and discovery, however, all that the evidence in this case demonstrates is that UCC is not that entity". Click here to view the complete opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.
2. Did UCIL abandon the Bhopal plant after the gas leak?
A. No. After the incident, UCIL completed one of the most single important remediation activities -- the transformation and removal of tens of thousands of pounds of methylisocyanate (MIC) from the plant. Click here and see page 7 in the Jackson Browning Report.
The plant never resumed normal operations after the 1984 gas tragedy and, in the following years, the Indian government severely restricted access to the site. UCIL was only able to undertake clean-up work in the years just prior to the sale, and spent some $2 million on that effort, which included beginning construction of a secure landfill to hold the wastes from two solar evaporation ponds on site. The central and state government authorities in India approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work.
3. What is the status of remediation now?
A. We understand that after UCC sold its stock in UCIL in 1994, EIIL continued the clean-up work and completed the construction of the secure landfill on site. In 1998, the MPSG, which owns and had been leasing the property to EIIL, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.
In 2004, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed and is currently before the State of Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur. One of the claims made in the litigation -- against the Union of India, the State of Madhya Pradesh and private companies allegedly responsible -- seeks remediation of the plant site. (UCC is not involved in that litigation.) For additional information on this 2004 PIL, please see “UOI vs. Alok Pratap Singh: Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court” in the Bhopal Litigation in India section of this website.
The media reported in 2007 that the Supreme Court of India had directed the central and state governments to pay for collection of waste on the site and to have it landfilled or incinerated, as appropriate. While some of the waste had been landfilled, public interest groups again challenged the Court's incineration directive, as did the states where waste incineration facilities were located.
However, in 2012, the Supreme Court selected the Pithampur waste treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district as the most suitable facility for incinerating the waste. Though environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claimed the facility failed to meet desired safety parameters, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) submitted an affidavit in 2014 verifying the suitability of the facility to carry out the incineration.
According to The Indian Express, 10 tons of trial waste were transferred to the site in July 2015 and the trial incineration was conducted over a five-day period in mid-August 2015. Operated by the Ramky Group Company, the TSDF was monitored by the CPCB, as well as private firms CVR Labs of Chennai and Vimta Lab of Hyderabad. The Express reported that officials associated with the trial said the levels of emissions and ambient air quality from the burning were within permissible limits, with the air quality being monitored at three locations in and around the facility, including a station representing Tarpura village adjacent to the facility.
The full report on the trial incineration results will be submitted to the Supreme Court, which will decide on how the rest of the waste at the site will be handled, said The Express, which also noted that officials expect the remaining waste (some 335 tons) to be burnt at the “same place, using the same technology and the same control parameters”.