Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Authored by Devanshi Goyal
Keywords: Industrial disaster, gas chamber, pollution, thousands killed.
The night of 3 December 1984, had unfolded such series of events in which thousands of people lost their lives. The Bhopal gas tragedy, occurred on the cold wintry night when most of the people were sleeping unaware of the worlds worst industrial disaster which caused great damages to manpower.
The chemical reaction started at Union Carbide(India) limited factory which is situated in the middle of city, culminated in the leakage of deadly gas from one of the tanks of the factory. Methyl Isocyanate(MIC), the gas clouded all over the area and gradually descendent a blanket over the city and unfolded itself, causing the city and lakes turning into a gas chamber. The tragedy resulted around 3000 lives of innocent people, and thousands and thousands of people were effected from the gas impairing them physically and mentally both. Lives were lost, injured and infected at the same deadly night. Business suffered loss, lives of people were affected, environment becomes polluted, ecology was affected, flora and fauna were disturbed, all in one single night.
The Bhopal gas tragedy is considered to be one of the world worst industrial disaster. It affected thousand of lives. On the night of 3 December 1984, about 40 tons of Methyl Isocyanate gas started leaking from a pesticide plant in Bhopal. The leakage turned around a horrific accident in history causing premature death of many thousand people and affecting twice the number who died for lifetime.
The population of Bhopal in 1984 was approx 8.4 lakh, and more than half the population as coughing, complaining about itchiness in eyes, skin, facing breathing problem or worst was dead by the morning because of the leakage at midnight.
People suffered from internal hemorrhage, pneumonia, the worst part was it not only cause damage to the people who were present at that time but it also infected the next generation as well as after the disaster, many children were born with disabilities physical or mentally both duets the effect of gas. Poor people living in the villages and slums around were effected the most.
The situation got worse because even several hours after the gas leakage, the alarm system of the union carbide factory was not working. It wasn't raised by the factory managers. By the morning thousands of people were running towards hospitals with different complaints. And at that, Bhopal City lacked hospitals that could accommodate half of the city population. People were confused and most importantly scared due to not able to breathe properly and what was happening to them and why. The doctors were also incapable to understand the reason for such problems faced suddenly by too many people at the same time.
Result of the disaster
Almost 35 years have passed since the accident at Union Carbide Pesticide plant in Bhopal, which released 40 tons of MIC highly toxic gas in the environment. The leakage caused, was said to be caused due to grave negligence on the part of factory managers, also some say, the leakage was just an accident. The gases which surfaced in the environment initially stayed as cloud but eventually started getting low towards the ground, causing the victims throats and eyes to burn, causing nausea and deaths. Government has estimated of around 15000 killed over the years as the toxic part remains, and the aftermath of the disaster has given birth to children physically and mentally disabled because of the contamination, in the area which was mixed with the drinking water which got contaminated.
The survivors still have been protesting over the site to be cleaned up as claimed, the effort in cleaning up the left overs by the Dow chemical had slowed down after taking over the union carbide in 2001. Human rights groups have sated that thousands of tons of hazardous waste still remains buried underground, and the area is still contaminated.
The factory UCIL, was majorly owned by UCC, with Indian Government-controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake. District court of Bhopal was piled up with many civil and criminal cases involving UCC and Warren Anderson,UCC CEO at the time of disaster.
UCC which was involved in such disaster tried very much to dissociate itself from the legal responsibility. It tried to shift its legal responsibility to UCIL, stating that the plant was operated by the Indian subsidiary. Fabricating scenarios, shifting blames, sabotaging the evidences which might prove the negligence of the company, all was done in order to exonerate itself from giving compensation to the victims.
Eventually the matter reached supreme court of India, and Supreme Court has mediated the settlement, and UCC agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian government which is to be distributed among the claimants as a full and final settlement of dispute. The basis for calculating the relief amount was on the quantity of the lives lost and the people who have suffered loss or any damages. The amount was considered comparatively limited, based on the significant underestimations of the long term health consequences of exposure and the people who were exposed to it. The need for proper standards for environment safety was felt during the time of disaster, as a preventative strategies, to evade any similar accident and industrial disaster preparedness.
Outcomes of the disaster
Subsequently after the events of December 3, 1984, environment awareness and activism has increased significantly in India to avoid any such disaster. The environment protection act passed in 1986, created the ministry of environment and forests( MoEF) to strengthen the environmental conditions prevailing in India. The disaster has exposed that the apparent problems of locals in the industrial hazards and toxic contamination are often tied to the global market dynamics. UCC plant was build in Madhya Pradesh only to avoid the environmental regulations in united states, it exploited the large and growing Indian pesticide market. The existence of double standards for multinational corporations, operating in the country, have resulted in such tragic loss of life and property.
However the lessons of acute and chronic effects of exposure to pesticides and their precursors in Bhopal has not changed agricultural practice patterns. An estimated 3 million people per year suffer the consequences of pesticide poisoning with most exposure occurring in the agricultural developing world. It is reported to be the cause of at least 22,000 deaths in India each year.
The tragedy which occurred, is a continuing warning sign which is ignored. The aftermath of the disaster indicates, that the path which leads to rapid industrialization, is stuffed with human, environmental and economic insecurity.
The growing Indian economy at a tremendous rate, is a significant price in environmental health and public safety, which is continuously polluted by the large and small companies.
Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded.
Foot Notes:  Kumar S: Victims of gas leak in Bhopal seek redress on compensation. Bmj. 2004, 329 (7462): 366-10.1136/bmj.329.7462.366-b.  Trade Union Report (1985)  Fortun K: Advocacy after Bhopal. 2001, Chicago , University of Chicago Press, 259.