Bhopal gas victims were denied justice

Thirty years after Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal spewed 40 tonnes of highly toxic methyl icocyanate into the air, the victims of the tragedy are no closer to justice.

This was one of the world’s deadliest industrial disasters; over 3,000 people died instantly and tens of thousands lost their lives in the following years.

The nightmare that began in the wee hours of the night of December 2-3, 1984, has not ended as those who were exposed to the toxic fumes struggle till today with blindness and diseases such as cancer, respiratory problems, and immune and neurological disorders. Their children are born with terrible deformities. And yet, little has been done to end this ghastly nightmare.

Those responsible for the disaster got away without punishment. And the complicity of the Indian government in this is shocking. Carbide did not share with India the details of the poisons that its plant spewed that fateful night and Indian authorities failed to force it to do so.

Union Carbide chief executive Warren Anderson was allowed to slip out of the country days after the disaster and never returned to face the courts. Dow Chemicals, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, refuses to appear before Indian courts. That cases against Carbide officials are pending in courts 30 years after the disaster happened is a damning indictment of our judiciary.

An out-of-court settlement facilitated by the Indian government forced Union Carbide to compensate the victims. But the amount is a pittance, especially in the context of the life-long ailments that people are grappling with. As worrying is the fact that the contaminated disaster site has not been cleaned up yet.

Three decades after Union Carbide turned Bhopal into a gas chamber, the City’s soil and water remain toxic. The Bhopal gas disaster’s impact could have been reduced had the Indian government stood by its people and demanded greater accountability from Union Carbide. It did not.

Decades after the Bhopal disaster, India is no less safe. Chemical and petrochemical leakages continue to happen. Technology-wise, there may be marked improvements in the construction of plants including hazardous ones but nevertheless, stress should continue to be given to the safety parameters in factories of different sectors.

As for the government, there is need to revisit rules and regulations governing safety issues in industrial plants to ensure that there is no laxity when it comes to safety aspects which need to be foolproof. The Fukushima nuclear plant disaster is a grim reminder and stringent safety measures need to be taken world over in nuclear plants, be they the exiting ones or are under construction.

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