A Look Back at the Bhopal Gas Tragedy – 30 Years Later

A piece by The Hindu looks back at the Indian Bhopal gas tragedy, which will have happened 30 years ago come December. “The leakage of the deadly methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) factory in Bhopal went down in history as one of the worst industrial disasters in the world. But after all these years, has anything changed in India with regard to adoption of environmental safeguards before promoting industries and related projects?” the article asks. The answer, seems unfortunately, to be no.

Repercussions are still being felt today. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“According to a January 2013 report of the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, the soil and groundwater within 3.5 kilometres from the UCC factory site is contaminated with cancer- and birth defect-causing chemicals. ‘The contamination of soil and groundwater actually predates the disaster,’ says activist Satinath Sarangi, who has fought for the cause of gas leak survivors. ‘From 1969 to 1977, Union Carbide used to dump its toxic wastes at 21 spots, most of them unlined pits, inside the 68-acre factory premises. Despite 17 agencies, including government and non-governmental organisations, carrying out studies over the past two decades, a comprehensive plan for remediation of the soil and groundwater has not been prepared,’ he says.”

Rashida Bee, president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, told The Hindu that three generations of gas leak victims have suffered, with their children being born with disabilities but little was done by the government to help victims and to give medical assistance to their families.

The issue of compensation and fairness is deep.

The article states: “On Friday, October 31, when the news of Warren Anderson’s death spread across Bhopal, survivors of the tragedy got together to spit on a photograph of the former UCC CEO, the first accused in the case and a fugitive from justice. Survivors are unhappy with the court proceedings and compensation. ‘While over 25,000 people have died in the disaster, the government has paid compensation for only 5,295 deaths. The government acknowledged in June 2010 that the compensation it accepted from Union Carbide was indeed inadequate. Following this, both the Central and State governments have filed curative petitions in the Supreme Court seeking additional compensation of $1.2 billion,’ Sarangi says.”

So what about learning lessons from the incident? Changing policies? The article says lessons from the tragedy have not been taken seriously.

Here’s what The Hindu article reports:

“Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman says key lessons such as choosing appropriate sites for projects are violated to this day. ‘Take the proposed Cheyyur thermal power project in Tamil Nadu, for instance. If the power plant pollutes the land and waterbodies, who will compensate affected local communities?’ he asks. ‘Another example is the Gorakhpur nuclear power project planned in Fatehabad. Located close to dense human habitations, the project has already raised several concerns,’ he says.

“Disaster response is another important lesson. ‘In Japan, even small children know how to respond to a disaster such as [an] earthquake, but go to Kudankulam and the local villagers know very little about how to respond to any radiation leak,’ he says.

“The lack of preparedness in the face of hazardous pollution shows in the case of mercury pollution in Kodaikanal. Mahendra Babu, president, Ponds HLL Ex-Mercury Workers’ Welfare Association, said that in 2001, the Kodaikanal mercury thermometer factory of Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (then Hindustan Lever) shut down, but 36 ex-workers of the factory died from hazardous exposure to mercury. ‘In the past 10 years, 11 committees, including a Supreme Court-monitored committee, has been set up to redress grievances arising out of the pollution from the factory. No thorough clean-up of the factory site has been done as yet,’ he says.”

 

For more facts about the Bhopal incident, click here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/december/3/newsid_2698000/2698709.stm

For the article from The Hindu, click here: http://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/30-years-after-the-bhopal-gas-tragedy/article6555780.ece?homepage=true