Bhopal gas tragedy: MP government’s gimmick
Posted November 16, 2009on:
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial disaster which has so far claimed over 20,000 lives and left over a lakh incapable of leading a normal life, the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh has resorted to a cheap gimmick to divert the world media’s attention away from its failure to ensure medical and economic rehabilitation of the survivors. It has announced that it will throw open for a week to the public the Union Carbide’s pesticide plant which was the source of the lethal MiC gas leak in the night of December 2-3,1984.
It is a mere skeleton of the machinery which was sealed soon after the disaster because of the suspected presence of the noxious chemical substances and also because it was a valuable piece of evidence in the on-going criminal case against the Union Carbide executives: the case has all but bungled by the CBI, which is the prosecuting agency, apparently at the instance of the successive Union Governments which have never liked the idea of annoying America’s political leadership by dragging Warren Anderson, then CEO of the Union Carbide, to the Indian courts.
Though the Congress chief ministers, Arjun Singh and Digvijay Singh, made their own distinctive contributions to add to the misery of the gas leak survivors, the successive BJP governments have gone as if with vengeance in undoing whatever little had been done, mainly at the Centre’s prodding, to help the survivors recover from the trauma.
A quarter century after the tragedy, the gas widows, those who were orphaned in the disaster as well as those who were incapacitated by the gas leak — their estimated number exceeds one lakh — are living in extreme misery as the government has not taken any step to ensure some means of livelihood to them. Babulal Gaur, who was minister of Bhopal gas relief and rehabilitation in the BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa in the early 1990s, had told the State Assembly in 1991 that the Bhopal gas leak survivors were no more in need of any assistance as they had become quite well off. Gaur is holding the same portfolio now also and seems to be behind the bright idea to throw open to the public the defunct pesticide plant.
The State governments, including that of Digvijay Singh, have not only treated the gas leak survivors with apathy bordering on contempt but also repeatedly ignored the Supreme Court’s directives. The apex court had, for instance, directed the State government 17 years ago to insure the lives of nearly one lakh children born around the day the gas leak tragedy had struck Bhopal. Disposing of a string of writ petitions on October 3,1991, a division bench of the apex court had observed: “We are of the view that such contingencies shall be taken care of by obtaining an appropriate group insurance cover from the General Insurance Corporation of India or the Life Insurance Corporation of India for compensation to this contingent class of possible prospective victims”.
The judgement added: “The period of insurance cover should be a period of eight years in the future. The number of persons to be covered by this Group Insurance Scheme should be about and not less than one lakh of persons… as this figure broadly accords with the percentage of population of the affected wards… and the number of persons found to be affected by medical categorisation…The possible claimants fall into two categories: those who were in existence at the time of exposure; and those who were yet unborn and whose congenital defects are traceable to MIC toxicity inherited or derived congenitally”.
The apex court issued repeated directives to the State government to ensure proper medical facilities to the survivors. At one stage, the court even directed the State to issue identity cards to the survivors to facilitate their treatment at the hospitals and dispensaries specially set up for providing medical help to the gas victims. The court directed the State government to ensure safe drinking water supply to the dozen-odd worst affected localities situated around the Union Carbide’s pesticide plant site. The State governments have shown little concern for the apex court’s directives.
Having tuned a blind eye to the genuine problems of the gas leak survivors, the State government has come out with the idea of throwing open to the public the erstwhile pesticide plant on the 25th anniversary of the disaster, as if this was the only thing that remained to be done. The idea is not only fantastic, but dangerous also because it is a storehouse of deleterious chemical wastes which had been dumped there and had over the years been seeping into the groundwater and contaminating it.
Greenpeace, an environment group based in Amsterdam, considers the opening of the pesticide plant to public as a foolish and dangerous move. It says that only the State-approved experts and investigators have access to the plant… and the courts have ruled against free access for public because of the hazardous nature of the chemical wastes inside.
George Monbiot, after having a look at the site of the tragedy recently, wrote in his Guardian (U.K.) blog: “the plant has simply been abandoned. Hundreds of tonnes of deadly chemicals have been left there – in open pits or just piled on the ground — to leach into the water supply, where they continue to poison people to this day, causing cancer and foetal malformations, among other horrible effects. The chemicals include deadly pesticides and their even deadlier precursors.”