The successive governments at the Centre and in Madhya Pradesh have failed to stand up to the challenge posed by the world’s biggest industrial disaster that struck Bhopal in the night of December 2-3, 1984. Thousands were choked to death and lakhs of others were disabled for life by the mic gas which leaked from the pesticide factory of union carbide, an American multinational, which has since been taken over by another American multinational, Dow Chemical. Abdul Jabbar Khan, convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS), and N D Jayaprakash, Co-convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS), who have been trying to help the victims through their organisations, take a look at the state of affairs 29 years after the tragedy:
HEALTH: The gross indifference on the part of the State and Central Governments to the health needs of the gas victims continues to be as grim as ever. Though a fairly large infrastructure has been built in terms of buildings and number of hospital beds over the years, the quality of health care in terms of investigation, diagnosis and treatment continue to be abysmal. The persistent apathy on the part of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the State of Madhya Pradesh in monitoring the health status of the Bhopal gas victims – through computerisation and networking of hospital medical records and by ensuring the supply of health-booklets to each gas victim with his/her complete medical record – is shocking to say the least. That a proper protocol for treatment of each gas-related ailment has not been evolved even 29 years after the disaster speaks volumes about the apathetic attitude of the concerned authorities in this regard.
The urgency of restarting medical research arising from and related to the Bhopal disaster, which the ICMR had abandoned in 1994, can in no way be underplayed especially in the light of numerous reports about the high morbidity rate in the gas-exposed areas of Bhopal. The four consolidated medical reports on the Bhopal disaster that the ICMR has published so far provide ample proof in this regard. Reports about genetic defects among the progenies of some of the gas victims are also a major cause for concern.
COMPENSATION: Twenty-one years after the unjust Bhopal Settlement of February 14-15, 1989, the Union of India had decided to file a curative petition before the Supreme Court on December 3, 2010 against the terms of the Settlement on the plea that the Settlement was based on underestimated figures of the dead and injured. The petition has been admitted but has not yet been taken up for hearing. BGPMUS and BGPSSS do support the UOI’s Curative Petition in principle regarding the total casualty figure (i.e., 5, 73,000, including dead and injured) and regarding the modalities for enhancing compensation; it should be based on the Dollar-Rupee exchange rate that prevailed at the time of the Settlement.
CRIMINAL CASE: The criminal cases against the accused are supposedly proceeding at two levels: one against the three absconding accused and the other against the eight accused who appeared before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, to face trial. Through his order of June 7, 2010, the CJM had prosecuted the eight accused persons under Sections 304-A, 336, 337 and 338 of IPC. The CBI, the State of MP and BGPMUS and BGPSSS had filed Criminal Revision Petitions against the said order before the Sessions Court, Bhopal. By completely overlooking the plea of the prosecution and by upholding the contentions of the accused in toto, the Sessions Court, Bhopal, on August 28.2012 dismissed the CBI’s Criminal Revision Petition as “being not maintainable and barred by limitation”. The CBI had sought enhancement of charges against Keshub Mahindra and the seven other accused from Section 304-A to Section 304 of IPC on the basis of evidence already before the court of the CJM.
The criminal case against the three absconding accused, namely accused Nos.1, 10 and 11, which has been pending before the court of the CJM as Miscellaneous Judicial Case (MJC) No.91 of 1992 has also been proceeding at an equally tardy pace.
ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION: Toxic waste that was generated during UCIL’s operation from 1969 to 1984 was dumped in and around the plant leading to severe soil and water contamination. A comprehensive study to estimate the extent and gravity of the damage has not been carried out by the Centre or the State Government to date. Instead, the magnitude of the problem has been grossly underestimated by making it appear that the total toxic waste that needs to be safely disposed of is only about 345 tonnes that is stored at the plant site. in a preliminary study that was jointly carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, during 2009-2010, it was estimated that “the total quantum of contaminated soil requiring remediation amounts to 11,00,000 MT.
At the initiative of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi, a preliminary attempt was made in April 2013 to bring together on a common platform the various stakeholders and experts to prepare an Action Plan to remediate the degraded environment. While a draft Action Plan has been worked out, it requires further refinement as well as inputs from other experts and stakeholders, including the Government of Madhya Pradesh.
RELIEF & REHABILITATION: The State Government has failed to address adequately and with sensitivity a whole host of socio-economic problems that confront the chronically sick, the elderly, the differently abled, the widowed, and other vulnerable sections among the gas victims. The pittance, which was disbursed as compensation in most instances to these sections was never enough to take care of their daily needs. Finding gainful employment in accordance with the reduced capacity to work and to lead a dignified life has been a serious challenge. The State Government has to provide far more attention and support to this issue than in the past.
On December 3 falls the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster. The survivors and their sympathisers will observe the ritual, as they always have, of holding prayer meetings, taking out processions, shouting slogans against the authorities and burning the effigies of former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson.
The ritual over, these hapless survivors will return to their desultory life, hoping for some miracle that would make their living a little less miserable. All they need is medicine, uncontaminated drinking water and some means of sustaining their life. They have spent all these years in the hope of this miracle. The governments at the Centre and in the State have made every effort to deny them these basic necessities —- the Central government which had, by an Act of Parliament, taken upon the role of the guardian of the families affected by the MiC gas leak from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant, and the State government which has the responsibility of implementing the projects aimed at providing succour to the survivors.
An important issue ignored by the authorities so far is why Union Carbide was using poison in its pesticide plant in Bhopal.
The presence of cyanide and phosgene in the blood of the victims and in the residue of the storage tank immediately after the disaster on December 2-3,1984 had puzzled the scientists because these two chemicals are not required to manufacture pesticides. While high concentration of hydrogen cyanide was found in air samples close to the tank two to three days after the leakage, phosgene was also smelt close to the tank during the release.
The vapour of hydrogen cyanide “may be followed by almost instantaneous collapse and cessation of respiration”. Cyanide can also accumulate in the body. Then the common symptoms are headache, dizziness, nausea and weakness. Less common are rash, increased sweating, dyspnoea, weight loss and irritability, besides, many other “unspecified symptoms”.
Phosgene was “effectively used as a combat gas during the First World War”. It is a severe irritant to the entire respiratory tract.
The Indian authorities did not even seek an explanation from the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) about the presence of these two chemicals, as these were not required for making pesticides.
Reproduced here is an Editorial from The New York Times of
October 26,2013 captioned Narendra Modi’s Rise in India:
In 2002, rioters in the western Indian state of Gujarat savagely killed nearly 1,000 people, most of whom were part of the Muslim minority. Now, barely a decade later, Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time and still holds the office, is a leading candidate to become prime minister of India.
Mr. Modi, a star of India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, would become prime minister if the party won enough seats in parliamentary elections next summer with support from its political allies. His rise to power is deeply troubling to many Indians, especially the country’s 138 million Muslims and its many other minorities. They worry he would exacerbate sectarian tensions that have subsided somewhat in the last decade.
Supporters of Mr. Modi argue that an investigation commissioned by India’s Supreme Court cleared him of wrongdoing in the riots. And they insist that Mr. Modi, who is widely admired by middle-class Indians for making Gujarat one of India’s fastest-growing states, can revive the economy, which has been weakened by a decade of mismanagement by the coalition government headed by the Indian National Congress Party.
There is no question that the Congress Party has failed to capitalize on the economic growth of recent years to invest in infrastructure, education and public institutions like the judiciary. And instead of trying to revive itself with new ideas and leaders, it is likely to be led in the coming election by Rahul Gandhi, the inexperienced scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
But Mr. Modi’s strident Hindu nationalism has fueled public outrage. When Reuters asked him earlier this year if he regretted the killings in 2002, he said, if “someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is.” That incendiary response created a political uproar and demands for an apology.
Mr. Modi has shown no ability to work with opposition parties or tolerate dissent. And he has already alienated political partners; this summer, an important regional party broke off its 17-year alliance with the B.J.P. because it found Mr. Modi unacceptable.
His economic record in Gujarat is not entirely admirable, either. Muslims in Gujarat, for instance, are much more likely to be poor than Muslims in India as a whole, even though the state has a lower poverty rate than the country.
India is a country with multiple religions, more than a dozen major languages and numerous ethnic groups and tribes. Mr. Modi cannot hope to lead it effectively if he inspires fear and antipathy among many of its people.