Millennium Post

Bhopal gas tragedy: 32 years later

Bhopal is observing the 32nd anniversary of a major industrial tragedy which took place on the night of 2nd and 3rd December 1984. During that night itself, more than three thousand persons were killed or seriously injured after inhaling the poisonous gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory which was producing pesticides. Though more than 32 years have passed since the tragedy, people are still suffering from various diseases. 

The Bhopal gas tragedy is still killing and maiming people due to the poisoning of groundwater from the reckless dumping of toxic waste by Union Carbide during its 14 years of operation before the disaster, five organisations said on November 30.

“The MP government is equally responsible for the plight of survivors and the utter neglect of their children’s health. In the last 12 years, the state government has not implemented recommendations of the monitoring committee set up by the Supreme Court,” Rachna Dhingra from Bhopal Group said at a joint press conference held here.

“The preliminary findings of the Sambhavna Trust’s research shows that ten times more gas affected people are dying of cancer compared to unexposed people of similar socio - economic background. The bottom-line is that half the victims of the disaster are Muslims and 80% of the Hindus are from the low castes,” said Safreen Khan from the Children against Dow-Carbide.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh president Rashida Bee said Dow Chemical, which took over from Union Carbide in 2001, ignored four legal notices asking its representative to appear before a court in last two years.

“And, now the US government is sheltering both Dow Chemical and Union Carbide by refusing to serve the Bhopal Court’s notices to Dow. This year within one month, thousands of people wrote to the US President’s office asking that the Department of Justice serve the notice on Dow Chemical. All we got in response was an apology for deliberate inaction,” said Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogee Sangharsh Morcha president Balkrishna Namdeo.

Nawab Khan from Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha alleged that the Centre was downplaying the figures of death and extent of injuries in the apex court. “It is also refusing to carry out a scientific assessment of the toxic contamination of soil and groundwater,” he claimed.

At the same venue, Sayunkt Sangarsh Morcha MP, Bhopal, state president Shamsul Hassan convened a press conference, "demanding that there should be a CBI probe in the funding of the NGOs, especially those receiving foreign funding. He also demanded that healthcare facilities should improve at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre".

The biggest problem which the survivors face is the correct line of treatment which they should receive. Despite all out efforts, Union Carbide has not disclosed the content of the gas leaked on that fateful night. Besides that, the US-based factory also did not reveal the nature of treatment required to cure the victims. For the treatment of the gas victims, several hospitals and clinics were established in Bhopal. Besides a super speciality hospital known as Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre was not established. Originally this Bhopal Memorial Hospital was founded out of the fund provided by the Union Carbide. This Hospital was run by a trust headed by Shri Ahmadi, the retired Chief Justice of India. Later it was handed over to the Government of India. At present, the hospital is in bad shape. Due to many factors, several specialists have quit the hospital, leaving gas victims in the lurch with serious ailments. A move was made by the state government to take over this hospital. But this move was opposed by the hospital staff and also by voluntary organisations which are working for the welfare of the gas victims. 

It appears that this move has been finally dropped. An announcement to this effect was made by Vishvas Sarang, Minister of State in charge Gas Tragedy and Relief. Sarang has stated that the Government of India will run the hospital and it will enjoy the status of P.G. Institute and Super Speciality Hospital. Also, the National Institute of Environmental Health will be entrusted with the task of carrying out research on the nature of diseases being suffered by the gas tragedy survivors. Sarang also announced that gas hospitals would be equipped with various facilities like CT scan, MRI. Other pathological investigations will also be done in the hospitals. So far these services were outsourced. 

The gas victims and their representative organisations used to allege that the BJP government does not pay adequate attention to them. If the announcements made by Sarang are implemented there is every likelihood that the tragedy survivors might change their opinion. But there are no doubts that at present adequate facilities are not available in gas hospitals and clinics. 

Besides medical treatment gas victims also complain that the state government has not fulfilled various promises made by it in the past. It may be recalled that the state government pledged to provide employment to gas victims, keeping in view their physical condition. Nothing has been done in this respect. Besides the gas victims still feel that the compensation given to them is far from adequate. 

Meanwhile in a strange and unprecedented development FIRs have been filed against then (Dec. 1984) Collector Moti Singh and Superintendent of Police Swaraj Puri holding them guilty of facilitating the escape of Warren Anderson, then chairman of American Union Carbide. The FIRs have been filed on the direction of a Bhopal court. Anderson came to Bhopal all the way from the USA three or four days after the gas leakage. But within minutes after his arrival in Bhopal, he was arrested, and within a few hours after his detention, he was allowed to leave Bhopal. Why he was arrested and why he was set free is still shrouded in mystery. Both the collector and SP escorted Anderson to Bhopal airport from where he flew to New Delhi in a government aircraft. A case was filed in a Bhopal court accusing them facilitating his escape. After his escape, repeated demands were made to bring him to Bhopal and face the prosecution proceedings in the court. 

The Bhopal court while deciding the case prima facie held them guilty of helping Anderson to escape though he was arrested and was required to attend the court which he did not.

Both the officers retired long back and are living in Bhopal. It's hard to predict what turn the case may take. But there is no doubt that Moti Singh and Puri could not have decided to facilitate Anderson's escape without the direction from the highest authorities perhaps either by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi or Chief Minister Arjun Singh.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
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