Opinion

32 Years of Bhopal Gas Tragedy: How Rajiv Gandhi Let the Culprits of the Biggest Human Tragedy Go Scot-Free?!!

32 years of Bhopal Gas tragedy-a continuing human tragedy

The capital city of Madhya Pradesh became a deadly gas chamber on the fateful day of December 2-4, 1984. Union Carbide plant released 40 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas (a pesticide)- accidentally. However, this is one incident which has not been accounted for. The many gas victims were not adequately compensated for the loss of their lives, or for the loss of their livelihood. It was one of the biggest human tragedies, where numerous people consumed the poison. Their children were born with deformities, and many families lost more than just one family member.

Considering the scale of the disaster, perhaps we would have expected immediate compensation and justice from the government. But this was not to be. The survivors of this gas tragedy were left to seek justice for the next three decades. Even in 2016, they await justice to mourn the death of their loved ones. The culprit; figuratively Union Carbide here has gone unpunished. And it is no other than our diplomatic leaders left to be blames. Even the Congress government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, failed to wipe the tears off their faces. Instead of tightening the legal screw on the big MNC, or bringing justice for humanity, victims are left alone to find justice.

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The then Indian government was allegedly responsible for letting the CEO of Union Carbide, Anderson- go scot-free. It is another story that Anderson died at the age of 92 in 2012. Under what circumstances? He was in a nursing home in US at that time, being given the best of the hospital treatment to save his life. Naturally, people of Bhopal did not mourn or rejoice over his death. All they wanted was justice to be delivered, but by law and order and not by God.

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Unfortunately, the gas tragedy has now become a debatable issue. What’s more worrying is the prosecution and evidence presented on the case. Under the law books, it is the Bhopal Collector and superintendent of Police being questioned, to allow Anderson escape the country. Now, this by common sense is also hard to believe. Activists have stepped in to clear this deliberate ambiguity. They have further alleged that without the support of senior people, this would not have been possible; in turn meaning that, Anderson wouldn’t have been allowed a normal life had it not been at the mercy of the Indian government.

According to a website legalservicesindia.com, the Settlement Order: –  But a major twist to these legal proceedings came through the settlement order which was stroked out between the Indian Government and the Union Carbide in an out of Court settlement in February 1989. Through this deal the liability of the Union Carbide was fixed at $470 millions in full and final settlement of all claims, rights, and liabilities arising out of the disaster. The terms of the settlement were such that it limited liability under all future claims as well, whether they were civil or criminal. This would mean that henceforth, all kinds of liability arising out of the disaster could be fixed only upon the Government of India and the Union Carbide would be held liable only to the extent of $470 millions.

 On-ground reality

There has been no rehabilitation effort at all. Survivors and left-behind family members are still fighting for justice. It has been 32 years now, and they rightfully want justice, punishment for the offenders, and adequate compensation. People also want the correct official figure (of number of deaths) to be reported. They also want additional compensation and, real culprits to be brought to the books; taking into account the health of many victims who survived the incident. Majority of them are still suffering on account of the tragedy. Loss of vision, lung injury, and other respiratory problems are just some highlights. Who will pay for their treatment? Consumption of strong medicines also leads to more complications, don’t we know it already?

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A joint study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Central Pollution Control Board in 2009 found contamination of soil and groundwater with heavy metals and chemicals.

A Belstein Test conducted in 2015 found the water from 240-foot-deep bore wells to be contaminated.

These facts further confirm the standard of living in the area, and how the present living generation is exposed to the chemical disaster. The chemical waste left behind is not just a failed law and order situation; it is a failure of the whole administrative system. You will notice many children born with serious deformities, as even the water consumed by them is not safe. Besides, the soil contamination only means contaminated crops and food consumption. This heart-wrenching tragedy is of such a big magnitude, that we can only do as much now.

BHOPAL, INDIA: Sohaib, 10 years old, with his mother Firoza Bee at home in the Tila Jamalpura neighborhood. Sohaib was born to parents contaminated by a carcinogenic and mutagenic water supply. This year marks the 31st anniversary of the 1984 Union Carbide gas tragedy that killed thousands of citizens of Bhopal within 72 hours and has gone on to claim thousands more as a result of the polluted environment. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images)
BHOPAL, INDIA: Sohaib, 10 years old, with his mother Firoza Bee at home in the Tila Jamalpura neighborhood. Sohaib was born to parents contaminated by a carcinogenic and mutagenic water supply. This year marks the 31st anniversary of the 1984 Union Carbide gas tragedy that killed thousands of citizens of Bhopal within 72 hours and has gone on to claim thousands more as a result of the polluted environment. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

According to a website legalservicesindia.com, It was also assailed on the grounds that this order also applied to future claims and this would mean stifling prosecution and that it was opposed to public policy. The order was also questioned for the inadequacy of the compensation and for the absence of any re opener clause. The absence of re opener clause is a very significant issue as latency period for the manifestation of the effects of the toxic injuries was unpredictable and therefore the amount of compensation was wrongly arrived at. Moreover, a lot genuine claims might arise in the future and limiting the liability arising out of such a major industrial disaster with such gravity and magnitude, without a re opener clause is clearly against justice, and if such a thing be allowed, it would definitely amount to unfair treatment from the view of the lakhs of people who were injured as a result of the gas leak  


Pooja Bhatia

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