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The Government

Bhopal : Poisonous Gas Leakage : The Pain and the struggle still on.
The nightmare began 25 years ago, when, on 3rd December 1984, poisonous gas leaked out of Union Carbide pesticide plant. It was a massive blow on the town of Bhopal sleeping peacefully. The poisonous gas affected over 5 lakh of population and took its toll on 8 to 10 thousand people in less than 72 hours killing 25 thousand more till date.

1984 was a catastrophic year - Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the slaughtering of Sikhs in Delhi, the gas leak in Bhopal. And also the rise of Rajiv Gandhi. These incidents did have a great impact on the Indian social scenario but after a lapse of a quarter of a century, they are now history. But the wound of Bhopal is still bleeding. Because the then and the subsequent generations are still being affected by it. The second reason is the fight for justice which still continues. And the lastly because the problems caused by industrialization and globalization are now becoming prominent on the global platform.

Union Carbide has always maintained that this was an act of sabotage and the company is not responsible for it. But in fact Union Carbide had selected harmful and hazardous production processes for pesticides just to save expenses. All over the world such industries are located away from the town as a rule, whereas it was located in the midst of densely populated areas of Bhopal. Many security measures were abolished so as to cut costs. The company had ignored many warnings given by employees union, as also the experts in the field.

Apart from those who died, around 2 lakh people are suffering today from various kinds of disabilities and diseases such as eye ailments, difficulties in breathing, heart diseases and ailments related to reproduction. Disabilities in new born babies are very common e.g. six fingers on the hand, legs that cannot stand and so on. So many still under treatment. Sambhavana Trust, formed by local activists is doing commendable work in this regard. Modern medical facilities as also Ayurvedic treatment is being provided free of cost made available to the people absolutely freely, without any cost. The efforts and the excellent standard of the services of ‘Sambhavana’ have won recognition all over the world today.

The 25-year old incident is akin to the havoc wrought on a city by war or by a bomb blast. But even more shocking is the apathy of the system in punishing the guilty. And the victims, suffering for the past 25 years, have continued their unequal fight against the injustice done to them. The gas-affected people are being treated as offenders by the government and the local administration. The victims have had to organise three long marches to Delhi in 1989, 2006 and 2008. They had to suffer police lathicharge and complete indifference from the arrogant bureaucracy. Union Carbide spent crores on media campaigns but refused to give any compensation to the victims. The out of court settlement done in 1989 was an eyewash and applied salt on the people’s wounds. The victims have still kept on with their fight through long marches, fasts, dharnas, demonstrations, boycotts, wall posters, etc. and through performing arts like musical concerts, plays, street plays, cartoons, etc.

The matter does not end with the nightmare of an accident that took place in 1984. The amount of waste chemicals and drainage water which the hazardous processes of the company have been releasing into the environment, has rendered the entire area poisonous. Tons of toxic material are scattered all over the place even today. Union Carbide disowned any responsibility after the gas leak. Then this particular plant was bought by a company named Dow who say that cleaning of the environment is the responsibility of the former owner company and not theirs. The residents of Bhopal however have to suffer the consequences till today.

Thus, it is really a fight for a healthy society though the brunt of the gas leak and of the subsequent fight for justice had to be borne by Bhopal victims. The real culprits in this case are Union Carbide and the corrupt government officials and the stooges of the company who have shielded it. The Indian public has chosen to be a mute witness to the whole sordid drama.

Bhopal gas leak accident poses many questions. Why did the American government not charge Union Carbide when it shunned all responsibility claiming the incident to be an act of sabotage? On the contrary the U.S. government did not hand over Mr. Anderson to the Government of India when he ran away there upon facing arrest in India. The Indian government too should have supported the cause of the victims of poisonous gas leakage in Bhopal and should have tried to get maximum justice to each of the victims. But ironically, in 1989 the Government accepted Union Carbide’s offer to pay only 47 crore dollars as compensation. And all the criminal charges were withdrawn. Later it was realized that the number of victims taken into account then was far less than the real number. As a result, the victims have, on an average, received only Rs.12490/- each as compensation. The ‘Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti’ (Committee for Cooperation for the Struggle of Gas Victims) appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court refused to reopen the case of compensation in 2007, but allowed approaching the Bhopal High Court. On 25 November 2009, a date marking the 25th anniversary of the incident, even the high court rejected the appeal.

In short, the victims have been totally overwhelmed by the evil nexus among the main offenders Union Carbide, their protectors, the American Government, and the over-indulgent Indian Government. Yet the questions regarding the protection of environment, the security to life and the health of the society remain unanswered. But the glaring problems like Bhopal Gas leak and the not so glaring issues of degrading environment, both born of the modern day industrialisation are sure to boomerang if not tackled in time.