32 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, govt apathy intensifies victims’ pain

Bhopal gas tragedy victims are yet to see any comprehensive assessment of contamination of the groundwater around the disaster site or efforts to clean it up


A file photo of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal that led to the world’s worst industrial disaster in modern history and loss of many lives. Photo: Madhu Kapparath/Mint
A file photo of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal that led to the world’s worst industrial disaster in modern history and loss of many lives. Photo: Madhu Kapparath/Mint

New Delhi: As many as 32 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, the affected are yet to see any comprehensive assessment of contamination of the groundwater around the disaster site or efforts to clean it up.

For the victims, the disaster is still ongoing.

“Till date there has been no scientific comprehensive assessment done to ascertain how far and how deep the chemicals have seeped. As per earlier studies, poisonous chemicals have contaminated drinking water for several kilometers north and north-east to the factory affecting 22 communities. But now our research shows 10 more communities are affected due to poor quality of water,” said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

“But preliminary findings of latest (private) studies are showing rate of cancer among gas victims is 10 times more when compared to the unaffected population. People are dying untimely deaths,” Dhingra added.

In 1984, India witnessed one of the world’s worst chemical disasters, the Bhopal gas tragedy, where thousands of people died due to accidental leakage of nearly 42 tonnes of toxic gas, Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC), in the intervening night of 2-3 December.

Organizations that have been fighting for justice for the Bhopal tragedy victims have repeatedly highlighted that the disaster is still ongoing and the generations born after the incident are also marked by the poisons that leaked from the pesticide factory.

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The organizations have said that the factory abandoned by the corporation is still killing and maiming people due to poisoning of groundwater from reckless dumping of toxic waste during its 14 years of operation prior to the disaster.

Nawab Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha alleged that Centre is downplaying the figures of death and extent of injuries in the curative petition before the Supreme Court for additional compensation from the US corporations.

In December 2010, the Centre had filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking to enhance compensation from Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). But Dhingra said the case is yet to be heard and Centre doesn’t seem to be making any effort to push for an early hearing.

The organizations also lambasted authorities for only focusing on about 345 tonnes of hazardous waste that is kept in the factory premises of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL).

In pursuance of the orders of Supreme Court in April 2014, the environment ministry authorized the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which is India’s nodal pollution watchdog, to incinerate 10 tonnes of UCIL waste at treatment, storage and disposal facility during August, 2015.

The environment ministry further sought directions from the Supreme Court on the future roadmap for disposal of the remaining waste and remediation of the contaminated site.

“Why are we focused only on that 350 tonnes of waste as that is not even 5% of the total toxic waste. There are three ponds where waste was dumped in factory between 1977-84. One should be talking about those sources of contamination. There are 21 other locations inside factory where waste was buried. That waste is causing damage and that needs to be handled,” Dhingra added.

Experts point out that it’s a timely reminder for authorities to prepare a national level policy for contaminated sites.

“It is unfortunate that Bhopal is still unresolved. But even on a national level we don’t have comprehensive standards to tackle contaminated sites. For instance, one has to decide what is the post clean up use of a site? We need such comprehensive policy,” said Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based non-profit working on environmental issues.

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