Bhopal's nightmare of green and apathy

Published: Tuesday 15 December 1992

IF LIVING proof is needed of how institutions created by human beings for their welfare really work, one has only to go to Bhopal, where thousands succumbed in a deadly MIC gas leak on the night of December 2-3 in 1984. Eight years later, apathy, arrogance and greed still prevail -- and all at the cost of those still alive to tell their tale of misery.

Many a compensation claim has been rejected ostensibly because death certificates are not available. In many cases, medical records do not exist attributing the patient's condition to MIC fumes. But, such certificates can be obtained for a price and a timely bribe can influence the decision taken by those in power on applications seeking compensation. And, moving from the tragic to the ridiculous, more than 100,000 children were not classified at all on the ground that this would only "complicate" the compensation process.

In Bhopal, there has been not only mismanagement but also suppression of information for even now, the government does not want to release the data in its scientific reports and surveys. The most prominent of these is the Varadarajan committee report, which goes into the technical aspects of the disaster. It is still a secret document.

This is the treatment meted out to Bhopal victims by their own state government; they have fared no better at the hands of the foreign company concerned and their national government. Neither the Indian nor US governments has forced Union Carbide to hand over whatever information it has on the effects of MIC, if only as it might have helped doctors to treat the gas leak victims. The vision of "one world" is only good to talk about, because the world's biggest industrial disaster has failed to prick the conscience of international watchdogs such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Environment Defence Fund.

On the other hand, powerful nations have manipulated even the United Nations to serve their economic interests. Proof of this is that in the World Investment Report 1992, brought out by the department of economic and social development of the United Nations, MNCs are described as engines of sustainable development, and there is only a passing reference to the "Bhopal incident", characterising it as one "in which training and supervision were apparently insufficient". The report's thoughtful recommendation arising out of the Bhopal tragedy is that there should be additional safeguards for workers' health and safety in hazardous operations in developing countries. With such "friends" on hand, Bhopal's victims would never need enemies.

Parliament, besides ensuring that the Indian government begins work seriously and speedily in Bhopal, must also ponder the question whether the nation is any better prepared now to deal with major industrial disasters?

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