Unmitigated pain

FIRST EDIT

On this 25th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial mishap that occurred in Bhopal — where the US multinational Union Carbide’s plant spewed poisonous gas killing over 3,000 people within hours — the wounds still remain unhealed, the conscience guilt-riddled and the tragedy unmitigated. More people died later. The government placed the death toll at over 15,000 while others claimed it could be 25,000. Through the decades the Bhopal tragedy became a symbol of the callousness of industry and the indifference of governments. Union Carbide, which was later taken over by another company, has not accepted responsibility for the mishap. Successive Central and state governments failed to bring justice and succour to the survivors and the kin of the dead. No official of the company or the government whose duty it was to ensure adherence to safety norms has yet been punished.

The compensation paid to the victims has been meagre. The out-of-court settlement between the government and the company went against natural justice and hurt legitimate entitlements. There is still no legal closure of the survivors’ claims. Deaths continue and thousands of people continue to seek medical treatment. The government issued health cards to three lakh victims but they do not get proper treatment. There are no case records, no facilities for specialised treatment and even necessary equipment in the hospitals. The medical, economic and social rehabilitation of the victims is far from satisfactory, and a good part of the work was actually by non-government agencies. Toxic substances from the factory and the waste from it have contaminated the soil and ground water. There has been no attempt to redress this.

Listing out the failures and lapses is itself depressing. Long and persistent campaigns have only marginally helped to draw attention to the needs and problems of the victims. Governments have not learnt any lessons from the Bhopal tragedy. Toxic chemicals still endanger the lives of many people and companies and government officials flout the rules and get away with it. A lesson for the people is that human life, especially in poor countries, is at a discount. The powerful can get away with massacre. Governments support and collude with them and are insensitive to the people. The latest example of this insensitivity was the state government’s decision to open the Union Carbide factory as a tourist spot. The plan has been shelved for the moment, but what a macabre idea to commemorate a tragedy!

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