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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

remembering with melancholy ~ Bhopal Gas tragedy ! ~ plight of victims !!

The night of Dec 2, 1984 would ever  rankle as the black day in the annals of Indian history.  Over 3000 died that night itself ; nearly 12000 died subsequently [the exact numbers of affected would remain a mystery!] and thousands maimed  due to diseases induced by methyl-isocyanate that tank 610  of Union Carbide spewed out some 27 tonnes of a poisonous asphyxiating gas from. Thousands of animals died too.   The plant installed in 1969 was to produce a cheap pesticide ‘sevin’ which ironically killed human lives. More than 3 decades & a half,  since that night of terror and death in Bhopal, which saw a cloud of deadly gases explode out of a faulty tank in a  pesticide factory and silently spread into the homes of sleeping people – there are still people affected by the world’s worst industrial disaster ever.  Many who breathed the highly toxic cocktail that night suffered a horrible death with multiple organ failure. Those who survived have suffered multiple diseases in the decades that were to come.

The famed city of  King Bhoja perhaps named Bhojpal after the king and the dam ("pal") constructed by him, slowly fell  to obscurity, and by the early 18th century Bhopal was a small village in the local Gond kingdom. The present capital of Madhya Pradesh is not as famous as many other cities are – in 1969, a factory to produce pesticide Sevin,  using methyl isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediate was started – and in hindsight this has caused untold woes and tribulations to thousands of poor Indian citizens.  … … before we proceed, can you (or would you like) to recognize the actor or more the role performed in that film ‘A Prayer for Rain’.

Politically Arjun singh was the Chief Minister of the State which now too has a Congress Govt headed by Kamalnath.  Meantime, in 2014 – occurred a death, which was not announced by his family,  confirmed from public records – brought  no tears miles away in India – for that ghastly incident.  Warren Anderson was born in New York in 1921, to Swedish immigrants who lived in the borough's Bay Ridge section. They named him for Warren G Harding, who was the president at the time.  After graduating in 1942, he enlisted in the Navy and trained to be a fighter pilot, but never saw combat. After his discharge, he made the rounds of chemical companies and took the first job offered him - by Union Carbide. He climbed the corporate ladder rapidly and ruled over an empire with 700 plants in more than three dozen countries. Then came Bhopal.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984 was a catastrophe that had no parallel in the world’s industrial history. In the early morning hours of December 3, 1984, a rolling wind carried a poisonous gray cloud from the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh (India). Forty tons of toxic gas (Methy-Iso-Cyanate, MIC) was accidentally released from Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant, which leaked and spread throughout the city. The result was a nightmare that still has no end !!!

This Sunday [1.12.2019] – hundreds of Bhopal Gas tragedy survivors formed a human chain in protest on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the world's worst industrial disaster. The protesters said the exposure to the toxic gas and the waste dumped in the premises of the defunct factory continued to cause them health problems, and demanded that Dow Chemicals, the current owner of Union Carbide, pay compensation under the "polluter pays principle".

Lot happened – the legal battle never gave justice to the victims.  All of us use batteries – one of the well-known names - Eveready Industries India Ltd. (EIIL), formerly Union Carbide India Limited was associated with it.  EIIL started its operation in India in 1905. The first dry cell batteries were imported from the US and sold in the major cities of the country. These batteries were primarily used in imported torches. In 1939, the company set up its first battery plant in Kolkata. This was followed by another battery manufacturing plant in Chennai in the year 1952. In 1969, the now infamous factory in Bhopal was opened. By the time of the Bhopal Disaster in 1984, the company was ranked twenty-first in size among companies operating in India. It had revenues of Rs 2 billion (then equivalent to US$170 million).   EIIL became part of the Williamson Magor Group through McLeod Russel Ltd in the latter half of 1994 following the sale of Union Carbide Corporation's stake in UCIL.

Later, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the former parent of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), completely distanced itself from the Indian entity, in which it held a 50.9 per cent stake at the time of the disaster.  The buyer  Dow Chemicals Company, retained its  identity.  With blame shifting hither and thither UCC  said Khaitan-controlled Eveready Industries India should be asked any questions on liability.  According to them,  the ‘polluter pays’ principle would mean liability is for UCIL.   The Williamson Magor Group had no connections or involvement with the operations of the said pesticide plant at Bhopal. Immediately following the accident, the plant at Bhopal was closed down permanently and all licenses were cancelled by the Government.

In 1985, an Act called the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of Claim) Act, 1985 was promulgated, by which the Union of India was authorized to institute the suit for claims and damages on behalf of the affected persons. The Union of India  instituted a suit against UCC USA claiming damages because of UCC USA's direct action in the design, construction and supervision and maintenance of the said plant at Bhopal. The litigation has been long and has never been in favour of the victims.

What is buried deep is how the issue was handled by the then Govt.  -  Warren Anderson, the proclaimed offender in Bhopal gas tragedy case, was allowed to leave India four days after the disastrous gas leak claimed thousands of lives. Anderson was not merely allowed to leave, but was regally escorted out by police and senior government officials treating him like an honoured guest.  The then chairman of UCC had landed in Bhopal on Dec 7, was arrested at the airport and taken to the company's guesthouse. But within hours, he was granted bail and the same police force six hours later escorted Anderson out of the city in a blue government vehicle. Moti Singh, who was then the district magistrate of Bhopal, told Headlines Today that he was asked by the then chief secretary to release Anderson.  Politicians worked overtime to ensure that Anderson had a free run.   The man responsible for the death of thousands was spotted in front of Parliament in the capital.  He sat on a white Ambassador car,  with  no sign of any remorse or tension on his face. Anderson finally left Delhi on Dec 7 1984 and never returned.  He is now no more !

The victims sadly continued to see failures.  The lawsuit   filed in 1999  —Bano v Union Carbide in district court of Manhattan, New York was dismissed in 2003  on the grounds of statute of limitation.  Same year   Janki Bai Sahu v Union Carbide and Warren Anderson was filed in same district court by 17 survivors living near the defunct Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.  Case sought damages, medical monitoring of patients affected by soil and drinking water contamination.  In 2005,  Manhattan district court gave  a summary judgement in favour of UCC against which appeal was filed again. In June 2012,  Court ruled in favour of the defendants, dismissing all claims of their liability and participation in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak;  UCC, parent company of  Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) which operated the pesticide plant in Bhopal, filed an application demanding the dismissal of the suit.  The order delivered by Keenan was the fourth dismissal of this case in 13 years.

The complicated legal battle was lost  ... thus  ended the sordid saga of Bhopal tragedy. .. .. the man at the start is Martin Sheen playing the criminal Warren Anderson in the film -  A Prayer for Rain,  a 2014 historical drama film set amidst the Bhopal disaster.   It was directed by  Ravi Kumar and featured Martin Sheen, Mischa Barton, Kal Penn, Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Fagun Thakrar in important roles. 

Homage today  to the victims of Bhopal tragedy and truth !

Feeling sad ~ S. Sampathkumar
3rd Dec 2019.

Article made  from various sources in web including wiki; TOI; India today.
Photo source : Robots For Eyes Podcast

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