Bhopal’s toxic reality - 26 years and still hurting

By Shahnawaz Akhtar, IANS
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

BHOPAL - Another year, another anniversary, another round of protests. But the thousands of survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster are unwilling to give up the fight for justice, 26 years after lethal gas leaked out of the Union Carbide plant here killing 3,000 instantly and an estimated 25,000 since.

On that night of Dec 2-3, 1984, 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas seeped out from the now defunct Union Carbide plant, catching people in their sleep. It killed people instantly, and slowly over the years. It also affected 100,000 people that night and estimates are than 500,000 still continue to suffer in myriad ways.

Two-and-a-half decades later, no concrete steps have been taken to remove the tonnes of toxic waste that still lie inside the Union Carbide factory, continuing to pollute and cause untold damage. Neurological, hormonal and mental health problems continue as do the economic hardships of not being able to work. Survivors still face the problem of deformed children being born.

And the question since has remained the same — will justice ever be served?

Torchlight vigils, demonstrations and street plays, as every year this anniversary will again see the Bhopal gas victims rally for justice.

“The decision of the central government to deny additional compensation to more than 90 percent of the people officially acknowledged to have been exposed to Union Carbide’s toxic gases is grave injustice to the survivors who have received a paltry sum of Rs.25,000 for lifelong injuries,” said Rasheeda Bee, a survivor who runs the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karamchari Sangh.

“We also condemn the absence of any decision on registration of exposure related death claims after 1997, when such registration was arbitrarily stopped,” she added.

For Rashida Bee and the others who still live with the scars of that night 26 years ago, the June 7 verdict by a court here holding the eight accused guilty only of criminal negligence and sentencing them to two years imprisonment is a mockery of justice.

The court also imposed a fine of Rs.100,000 on the eight, including Keshub Mahindra, who then headed the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL).

And Warren Anderson, former chairman of Union Carbide Corp, the American parent company, continues to abscond and is in the US.

Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, an NGO representing the survivors, had described the verdict as a disaster. “They’ve made it look like a traffic accident,” Sarangi said.

The visit of US President Barack Obama in November this year has added to anger here. The extradition of Warren Anderson and the industrial disaster and its aftermath was not even mentioned, point out activists here.

After all, it was Obama and his ministers who took stern action against British Petroleum for contaminating the environment of the Gulf of Mexico, they said.

“Only 11 people got killed; there was environmental damage and they created a $20 billion fund for clean up and compensation. But in the case of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the same US government has an indifferent attitude,” Rachna Dingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) told IANS.

With the union government making it clear they are not going to raise the issue in US courts, it seems no one really cares for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

“There is clearly a lack of political will. Both Union Carbide and Dow Chemical continue to violate Indian laws and scoff at Indian courts and the government appears to be helpless. If the central government were really serious about extracting compensation from the American corporations it would have joined the ongoing litigation on environmental damage in the US Federal court,” said Sarangi.

It is time once again to remember the pain of Bhopal. Will their cries this 26th anniversary be heard to any effect?

Filed under: Environment

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