BHOPAL: the bad dream continues
Disaster: 40 tonnes of MIC leaked
Area: 20 sq km
Dead: 3,000 within a week, 20,000 till 1992, when official counting stopped
Victims: 5,00,000 chronically ill, 40 visit hospital every hour
Treatment: Not known
Reason: composition of chemical compounds released not known
Long-term effects: ICMR refuses to divulge its studies
Compensation: maximum rs one lakh for the dead and chronically ill
rehabilitation: Centre as well as state refuses to foot the bill. only 450 rehabilitated
Punishment: Case still in the lower court. May take two more decades
Bhopal is the name of the place where, once upon a time, a vast plume of poison burst upon 5,20,000 people. But that happened 20 years ago.
Now Bhopal is a metaphor for disaster, industrial and human. It has been the object of much speculation and typically endless litigation. A case study in regulatory law, it could serve as wonderful proof in an argument to uphold the precautionary principle. Reams of paper — research unpublished or not undertaken — and crores of cash — money unspent, or non-funding — facilitate the entry of a new generation of the city’s residents into the 21st century, and death by unknown illness.
This is the Bhopal Down To Earth reporters RICHARD MAHAPATRA, VIBHA VARSHNEY and KUSHAL P S YADAV prefer to focus upon:
• The abandoned Union Carbide factory: A stockpile of chemicals contaminates local water and soil. The poison leaching into the ground contains mercury, once not considered to be in use in the plant.
• Health: Treatment of the gas victims not known. Union Carbide refuses to divulge the composition of chemicals released into the atmosphere, citing trade secrecy. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has withheld its research on the victims, limiting knowledge of the long-term effects of exposure to the gas. Read exclusive excerpts from ICMR’s findings.
• Compensation: The Centre and the state government have become the true victims of the methyl iso-cyanate gas leak — and heavy metals, and mercury. Each claims the unspent compensation money is theirs.
• Lessons learnt: India nurtures Asia’s second largest chemical industry. There is no doubt that Bhopal has been carefully nurtured — by official prescription, administrative dose by dose — to be where it is today. If Bhopal is not even a blip in your brain, don’t remember it. But you can’t forget it either.