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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.


A subtle move is afoot to re-establish a link, though seemingly tenuous, of the erstwhile Union Carbide bosses with the scene of the American Corporation’s horrendous crime, Bhopal. The flying visit of home minister P Chidambaram and his colleagues on the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal Gas to Bhopal on June 5 suggested this more than what they pretended for public consumption. Chidambaram is the chairman of the GoM.

They ostensibly came to have an idea of the enormity of the disposal of toxic wastes dumped on the ground of the Union Carbide factory over the past three decades. The matter is pending in the Supreme Court and the government has promised its response on the basis of the report prepared by the GoM. However, Chidambaram and his colleagues, Salman Khurshid and V Narayansamy, did not even visit the spot nor did they hold any discussion with those affected by the waste which has been seeping and contaminating the underground water.

They did not interact with the gas disaster victims who were lined up at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC); Chidambaram just took memorandums from them with a scowl on his face and passed on. From BMHRC, Chidambaram went to a posh hotel in the city where he spoke before the media more about the presumed achievements of the UPA and less about the Bhopal gas disaster. They, however, spent considerable time at BMHRC which holds the key to the Centre’s sinister design.

The hospital was built by the Union Carbide under a directive of the Supreme Court to provide specialised treatment to those suffering from the after-effects of MiC gas inhaled during the night of December 2-3, 1984. The construction and management of the hospital have been mired in unsavoury controversies. Suffice it to say that the Union Carbide had constituted a trust, Bhopal Hospital Trust (BHT), to manage the affairs of the hospital. Sir Ian Percival, former Solicitor General of England, was appointed the sole trustee of BHT. From 1984 till his appointment to BHT in 1992, Sir Percival worked as an attorney in the US-based Sidley and Austin, a law firm retained by Union Carbide Corporation.

Illegal drug trials

By a trust deed in April 1998, the sole trustee retired. His son, Robert Eldon Percival, and another were appointed by Union Carbide as trustees. By another deed, Sir Ian Percival was reappointed as trustee but he expired the same day. Some government officials were included as the trustees later the same year and Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) was registered as a charitable trust. Former Chief Justice of India A M Ahmadi, who had converted the charges against Union Carbide officials to minor offences and allowed sale of Union Carbide’s confiscated shares, was appointed chairman of the BMHT.

There have been several unhealthy developments in the past decade, the most scandalous being the revelation that the hospital was being used for unauthorised drug trials on gas victims. Following an intervention by the Supreme Court, the trust stands disbanded. The management of the hospital was first entrusted to the department of atomic energy but later transferred to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It has since been rechristened Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC).

There seems to be a move to make BMHRC autonomous with its own governing body. Robert George Percival, son of the late Sir Ian Percival, is learnt to be lobbying hard in Delhi for some such arrangement and his own inclusion in the new set-up. He is being strongly backed by erstwhile Union Carbide bosses, now part of Dow Chemical, and some other forces in the US. Robert George Percival’s interest goes beyond the monetary benefits from the BMHRC which has a corpus of approximately Rs 700 crore.

Combat gas

Dr Heeresh Chandra, one of the country’s foremost forensic experts, was of the opinion that the US multinational had experimented on the Indians some deadly chemical for use in a future biological warfare. Dr Chandra was involved in the investigations of post-mortem blood and tank residues. Phosgene and cyanide, the two most deadly chemicals, were also found in the blood of the victims, though these two chemicals had no business to be stored in the plant which was supposed to manufacture pesticides. (Phosgene was “effectively used as a combat gas during the First World War”. It is a severe irritant to the entire respiratory tract).

Dr Heeresh Chandra’s theory is supported by the findings of Swedish medical practitioner Ingrid Eckerman who was a member of the now-dissolved International Medical Commission on Bhopal (IMCB) and had been visiting Bhopal frequently in connection with her research. She says in her book, “Bhopal Saga: Causes and Consequences of the World’s Largest Industrial Disaster”: “according to reports seized from the Research and Development centre of the plant at Bhopal as well as documents traced from other offices of the firm, the (Union Carbide) Corporation had conducted a number of experiments on animals and plants, and was aware of the effects of MiC. It is likely that they had information not only on short-term effects, but also on medium and long-term effects”.

She says in her book: “a Research and Development unit was set up in Bhopal in 1976. The centre, the biggest in Asia, had five insect-rearing laboratories and a two-hectare experimental farm for testing chemical agents. Here, new molecules were synthesised and tested. It appeared that the UCIL (Union Carbide India Limited) was conducting (from 1975) field studies using new chemical agents without getting the projects cleared by the top-level committee where all collaborative research efforts should be screened from a security angle”.

She then refers to the reports about the presence of chemical warfare experts at Bhopal studying MiC’s effects (after the disaster). “For example, it is known that from the Pentagon, a medical doctor was sent to collect military intelligence regarding the effects of the leaked gases. From Sweden (her own country), two doctors were sent to make a report for the National Defence Research Institute”.

There has always been a suspicion that the Americans had been getting the data regarding the developing conditions of the MiC leak survivors so long as the Percivals and Ahmadi were associated with the hospital. The link seemed to have snapped up after the blow up of the drug trial scam. Reappointment of Robert Percival may be of help.

July 2018
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Outright Perilous!

An egoist as the head of the government is bad enough. An egotist is a nuisance as his constant chant of I…, I…., I….. jars on the listeners’ years. But when he loses touch with the reality and starts believing his imaginary achievements to be his real achievements, that’s outright perilous.

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