Thirty years after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, its victims are still awaiting adequate compensation. On the night of 2-3 December, 1984, a leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from the pesticide making factory of Union Carbide India (UCIL) took place in the shanty areas of Bhopal. Events following the tragedy symbolises the failure of our legal institutions. In a country that prides itself on its democratic spirit, the rights of Indian citizens were horribly neglected.
Union Carbide chief, Warren Anderson, whose death on 29 September 2014 was officially announced by his family only on 31 October, has never incurred the wrath of our sovereign legal system, adding salt to the wounds of families and friends of Bhopal victims. As per the government’s apex research agency, the India Council of Medical Research, approximately 12,000 died due to the disaster till 1993. The tragedy has also left survivors suffering from lung cancer, kidney and liver failure, physical and mental deformity. Half a million people were exposed to methyl isocyanate and other chemicals after the leak. Since many of those who died had no official record or ration cards and entire families were wiped out, leaving no one to report missing persons, the full magnitude of the leak may never be known.
After Anderson’s death, a coalition representing Bhopal’s victims and survivors began a demonstration the national capital. Their demand was simply for compensation in accordance with data gathered by official agencies tasked with mapping the human suffering caused by the toxic gas leak of December 1984. In three days, the protesters were compelled by the indifferent official response to raise the stakes from a hunger strike to the denial of even water. When those involved in mass crimes get away with no adequate punishment, there is a worry that persists over the possible recurrence of similar industrial disasters.
According to a Supreme Court order, until the claims of the victims are realised or obtained from Union Carbide and its Indian subsidiary, the central government must pay interim compensation or maintenance for the victims. However, the Centre has failed to stay true to the order’s spirit. Its victims, though, still hold onto the hope that since the Narendra Modi-led government enjoys a majority now, their prime minister can easily and quickly increase the compensation for victims if he so desires.