The Deepest Blues Are Black

Till today, the horrific Bhopal Gas Tragedy has left many suffering. Considered the worst ever industrial catastrophe, it occurred more than 25 years back, and cases are yet pending. Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was the Indian subsidiary of the US company, Union Carbide Corporation; Warren Anderson being the Chairman and CEO at that time. On December 3, 1984, 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) and other toxins had leaked from the UCIL pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The total number of deaths till date is 15,134. The total number of people victimized is 5.7 lakh.

Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning organization, claimed that Anderson was aware of a 1982 audit, which indentified 30 major hazards. These hazards were fixed at the company’s US plant, but were not fixed at the Bhopal plant. After 1981, UC was warned by American experts of a potential runaway reaction in the MIC tank. UCC themselves admitted in a report that most of the safety systems were not working on the night of the disaster. Despite several warnings and previous accidents, the authorities paid no heed.

Justice delayed is justice denied
On June 7, 2010, a Bhopal court convicted former chairman of UC India, Keshub Mahindra, former vice-chairman Vijay Gokhale, and five others, under bailable sections of the IPC. They were sentenced to two years in prison and fined Rs. 1 lakh each. It came as a shock when they were immediately granted bail.

Also, Anderson did not figure among those convicted. He was arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh police on December 7, 1984. He was then flown back to the US on a government plane. Anderson was declared a fugitive by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal in 1992. The plea for his extradition by the Indian government, in 2004, was rejected by the US. He now lives in a multi-million dollar home in Long Island, New York, without any social contact.

Political blame game
Since the release of these seven employees, a political blame game has started. A 1982 CIA report revealed that the Rajiv Gandhi government “was quick to release the UC chairman from house arrest.” It also said that Arjun Singh, the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh had acted on the Centre’s orders. The Congress was quick to react to the controversy.

One of their spokesperson defended Rajiv Gandhi and put the focus entirely on Singh. Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee then sought to defend Singh by saying that it was thought necessary to send Anderson out of Bhopal to maintain law and order, and to prevent people’s tempers from running high. This move is believed to be a measure to placate Singh.

Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi thought of it as an apt situation to add to the Congress’s woes. At a rally, he asked Sonia Gandhi “who was Bhopal’s maut ka saudagar”, a line she had used against Modi with respect to the 2002 riots. In the midst of this controversy, the sentiments of the victims have been lost.

Empty talk
How can these politicians talk of law and order, when they do not understand the meaning of justice? Each one of them is trying to come clean, without thinking of the pain suffered by people for 25 long years.

Under a settlement between the Centre and UC, UC paid Rs. 713 crores to the government as compensation. The amount had been fixed, but later it turned out that the number of dead decreased to 20,000 and the number of injured increased to 5.7 lakh. Thus the amount had to be distributed among five times the number of victims.

The victims have each received just around Rs. 12,410. Three years ago, the UPA government was opposed to any kind of enhancement of compensation to the sufferers. Only recently, it has decided to set up a group of ministers (GoM) to consider issues related to the tragedy.

Proper relief
There is now a sense of urgency among the GoM to provide proper relief measures. Talks about additional compensation of Rs. 983 crores, and securing Anderson’s extradition are doing the rounds. None of this is going to be able to make the pain and injustice disappear; it isn’t going to bring back lives that families have lost; it is all too late. It is high time the government learnt to deal with such disasters. Politicians must look beyond their own greed. Speedy justice is among the foremost reforms this country needs.

Roohi Mahapatra

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