The Story of Bhopal Gas Tragedy-Moment of Terror. It all started the night of 2–3 December 1984 would be so frightful for the residents was inconceivable. Its been more than thirty years this event occurred but it still gives goosebumps to those people who survived it or inherited from their predecessors. A gas leak left many people permanently disabled. It is the world’s worst industrial disaster.
It has been a topic of discussion several times. This article contains III phases. Phase I talks about the occurrence, phase II emphasizes on the effects and phase III depicts the steps taken thereafter.
PHASE I: THE OCCURRENCE
In 1970, the American enterprise, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) established a pesticide plant in the densely populated region on Bhopal due to its central location and transportation network. The specific site within the city was to be utilized for light industrial and commercial activities and not hazardous industries.
In 1984, the plant was manufacturing Selvin at one-quarter of its capacity due to decreased demand of the pesticide. Due to the decreased productivity, UCIL made plans to dismantle the key production units and transport it to another country. In the meantime, the plant kept up production but due to low profits, safety standards were the lowest priority. Although the local government was aware of the lower standards, it was reluctant to impose strict controls on a struggling industry, which was also a large employer.
At around 1:00 pm on December 3, 1984, massive amounts of Methyl isocyanide quickly engulfed the city. Within hours, a large number of humans and animals died due to inhaling the poisonous gas. According to an estimate, around 3787 people died immediately. Local hospitals were packed with clueless patients and doctors alike. In the first few days, the death count reached 10,000 followed by 15,000 to 20,000 premature deaths in the subsequent decade. A large proportion of people who survived suffered from acute multi-system morbidities with the eyes and lungs being the target organs. The ICMR estimated that approx. 62.58% of the population of Bhopal suffered from inhalational toxicity. The population that survived developed morbidity of the varying degree over the next 25 years.
When the hospitals started receiving patients, they had no idea about what was affecting them and the treatment that would be necessary. The doctors still do not know about the toxin or its antidote. The problem could have been more efficiently handled if the government had more information. UCC refused to divulge any information about the exact composition of the leaked gases citing trade secrecy as an excuse which forced the treatment to be symptomatic.
PHASE II: REVERBERATIONS
The gas leak claimed the lives of thousands of people, animals and carried over its devastating effects to the next generations. People suffered from various respiratory, reproductive and neurological disorders.
The injury was also inflicted on the environment. Even after the death of so many people, the corporation refused to take active responsibility and restore a healthy environment. During the company’s production years, it dumped huge amounts of toxic waste outside and inside the plant site. Almost 350 tons of toxic waste and residue of old pesticides still remain at the plant site.
These wastes degrade slowly and pollute the soil and groundwater. This threatens a larger number of people and will keep spreading unless it is properly disposed of. In May 1999, Greenpeace collected soil and water samples from the site and found that the water and soil and breast milk contamination is toxic to humans.
PHASE III: STEPS TAKEN
Civil and criminal cases filed in the United States against UCC and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster, were dismissed and redirected to Indian courts on multiple occasions between 1986 and 2012, as the US courts focused on UCIL being a standalone entity of India. Civil and criminal cases were also filed in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC, UCIL and UCC CEO Anderson. All were released on bail shortly after the verdict. An eighth former employee was also convicted but died before the judgment was passed.
In order to provide safe drinking water to the population around the UCIL factory, the Government of Madhya Pradesh presented a scheme for the improvement of water supply. In December 2008, the Madhya Pradesh High Court decided that the toxic waste should be incinerated at Ankleshwar in Gujarat, which was met by protests from activists all over India. On 8 June 2012, the Centre for incineration of toxic Bhopal waste agreed to pay ₹250 million (US$3.5 million) to dispose of UCIL chemical plants waste in Germany. During 1990, the first five-year plan; the central government sanctioned a 258 crore rupees fund for medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation of the victims.
This case also led to the development of the principle of absolute liability which said that any industry which carried out any activity in a residential area involving harmful substances which if the release can cause damage, will be liable for absolute liability I.e. it cannot take any defense.
The Environment Protection Act was enacted in 1986. The act defines the environment and authorizes the central government to take all such measures as it deems necessary for the purposes of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution.
The Factories Act was amended to include the list of hazardous industries and the provision to locate an industry.
The Story of Bhopal Gas Tragedy was one of the If we consider the protection of the environment as our duty, we can save thousands of life and our environment.