The Great Indian Tragedy

According to the backgrounder by The Economic Times:

A lethal plume of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas escaped from a storage tank at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in the early hours of December 3, 1984 in the central Indian city of Bhopal.

Government figures put the death toll at 3,500 within the first three days but independent data by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) puts the figure at between 8,000 and 10,000 for the same period.  The ICMR has said that up to 1994, 25,000 people also died from the consequences of gas exposure.

Union Carbide settled all liabilities related to the accident, including cleaning up the site, with a 470-million-dollar out-of-court settlement with the Indian government in 1989 after years of wrangling about the amount… The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), an umbrella group of survivors’ organisations, says most survivors received 25,000 rupees (500 dollars) to fund a lifetime of hospital visits.

Yesterday, after a 25-year-long wait, the final verdict was out.

A quarter of a century after the worst industrial disaster in history, a Bhopal district court sentenced seven people, including businessleader Keshub Mahindra, for two years in jail under sections of Indian law usually applied to road mishaps.

The Monday verdict didn’t mention Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide global chief during the disaster. Anderson, who was arrested in Bhopal in 1984, was freed on bail on assurance that he will return. Four years later, the CBI chargesheet named him, and in 1989, the chief judicial magistrate of Bhopal issued a non-bailable warrant for his arrest for repeatedly ignoring summons. In 1992, Anderson was declared a fugitive by the Indian courts.

The Indo-Asian News Service reports:

The United States has ruled out reopening any new inquiry against Union Carbide after Bhopal court’s verdict in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that killed more than 15,000 people, hoping it would bring closure to the probe into the tragedy.

“Obviously this was one of the greatest industrial tragedies and industrial accidents in human history,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake told reporters on Monday.  “But I don’t expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure,” he said…

Pritish Nandy seemed to hit the nail on the head when he tweeted:

We have simply stopped respecting the lives of the unknown any more. No number of deaths interest us, unless the dead are famous.

Bhopal will no longer be remembered for the crime: 6 lakh lives destroyed. It will be remembered for the injustice meted out 25 years later.

Today, I am ashamed to call myself an Indian.

Someone wise once remarked, “There is only one question – How to love this world?”

Update : 16 June 2010

Amar Hingorani, an advocate in the Supreme Court of India, posts a shocking and brilliant editorial in the Hindustan Times in which he informs us that: “The law empowering the Indian government to represent Bhopal’s gas victims was unconstitutional. In effect, two guilty parties negotiated with each other.”

 

See Also : Union Carbide’s official statement

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