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Mainstream, VOL LII No 50, December 6, 2014

Bhopal Tragedy: Thirty Years After

Sunday 7 December 2014

COMMENTARY

Thirty years ago on the night of December 2-3, 1984 the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide’s fertiliser plant in Bhopal causing a disaster beyond one’s imagination. According to current estimates, some 20,000 people died while the injured numbered over five lakhs.

The enormity of the Bhopal tragedy has been highlighted by noted environmentalists. One of them, Sunita Narain, brings into focus why Bhopal became India’s ‘living shame’. In an article in The Times of India she writes:

The judiciary succumbed—many say—to accept a paltry compensation and closed all liability against the company. Union Carbide ensured its complicity and responsibility was diluted—including by not informing doctors of the real toxicity of the chemicals released and their treatment....

The Centre argues that only 5295 people died—in the first instance and never later—and 6199 permanently disabled. It refuses to accept, without medical history, that the tragedy was much bigger.

The shame was accentuated by the fact that Warren Anderson, the prime accused being the Union Carbide Chairman when the disaster took place, died this year in the US without having to face trial in India. He had been declared an absconder several times by the trial court but, notwithstanding the Washington-New Delhi close strategic partnership since the end of the Cold War, India could not get the US to extradite him.

Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, has consistently refused to appear in the ongoing criminal case in Bhopal. This is typical of the attitude of companies in the Western world towards developing states. This only shows the value of human life in this part of the world.

Against the backdrop of US President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to India, Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action has called upon the government to “move for extradition of John McDonald, Secretary of Union Carbide, and not allow Dow to invest in the country unless it accepts liability in Bhopal”.

The activists have spoken out as they did in the past 30 years. Will the government positively respond?

Observer