Bhopal Blues

March 2014, London

Nearly 30 years since the worst industrial disaster the world has ever seen, the legal case is slowly advancing. Union Carbide Corporation is, once again, wanted in the Indian courts. Initially, Dow Chemical (the owner of the company) was able to block the summons, but the blocking order has now been removed, and Dow is expected to attend the court in July.

There is no doubt that a case like this should end up in a criminal court, and that only criminal justice bears enough depth to indicate that someone or some organisation should assume moral responsibility (or lack thereof ). But the question that I would like to ask here is – to what extent should liability like this be inherited? Again, it is criminal liability that I am referring to – the kind that entails a deep sense of moral fault or responsibility – not civil liability, which can be easily transferable and settled. But if a certain legal person (i.e. a company) committed a criminal offence, can that liability be transferred to or inherited by another legal person, who happens to acquire it? As much as we want to see justice being achieved, I am not sure we have a straight answer to that.