Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

No More Bhopals! 35,000 Killed Over 25 Years

Posted by Ka Frank on November 29, 2009

25 years ago, on the night of 2-3 December 1984, a terrible gas leak from the American multinational Union Carbide’s pesticide factory resulted, over the years, in the death of over 35,000 people and the chronic illness of over 3 lakh [300,000] people, of whom over 1 lakh were permanently maimed.

The victims continue to fight for proper compensation, rehabilitation, livelihoods, decontamination of soil and water and criminal action against those responsible. We are reprinting an article from March 2008 describing the efforts of survivors to receive justice, and the announcement of a 25th anniversary program in Bhopal sponsored by the Jan Sangarsh Morcha (Madhya Pradesh).

Survivors of Bhopal Gas Tragedy March to Demand Justice

Shuriah Niazi, Toward Freedom

On February 20th, more than a hundred survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy and their supporters began an 800 kilometers walk from Bhopal to New Delhi to remind the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the promises he did not keep. Organizations such as Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha and Bhopal Group for Information and Action are leading this “Padyatra.”They are demanding that the Prime Minister begin an empowered commission on Bhopal for medical care and rehabilitation of the Bhopal victims and their children.

Almost twenty three years after the Union Carbide gas disaster, Bhopal continues to gasp for breath. So far, authorities have failed to provide a clean and healthy environment for the thousands of citizens who inhaled the poisonous gas on December 2-3 in 1984, suffering irreversible lung damage. These survivors, mostly concentrated in Atal Ayub Nagar, JP Nagar and Arif Nagar, still use water polluted by the toxins left behind by the US multinational.

Groundwater contamination arising out of toxic waste from the Bhopal gas tragedy threatens the health of an entire new generation of the city’s inhabitants. About 8,000 tons of toxic waste still lies scattered and exposed on the premises of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. Now, decades after the world’s worst industrial disaster, these toxins have seeped into the city’s groundwater, according to environmental studies conducted by both the government and civil society groups. Though this information was even accepted by a court in the United States, the Indian authorities have done little to address the issue.

Although studies conducted over the years have arrived at roughly the same conclusion regarding groundwater contamination, it’s only now that the Madhya Pradesh government says it’s ready to take the case of the gas victims to the Central Government.

“Our state pollution control board filed a report that confirms that there is contamination of groundwater and we are ready to take the matter to the Union government,” said Ajay Bishnoi, Minister for Gas and Rehabilitation.

Scientific studies have proven that the toxic waste, containing harmful metals like mercury and dangerous pesticides and pollutants, has seeped into underground water reserves. The areas affected include Ayub Nagar, Kainchi Chhola, Arif Nagar, Dashhehra Maidan, Chandbari and Garib Nagar.

“We believe that around 40,000 people in localities close to the plant have been drinking the contaminated water for the last several years,” says Abdul Jabbar, a crusader for the rights of survivors of the tragedy.

“The water is not colorless and it tastes bitter. We know it is harmful for our health but we have no option. Also, due to financial constraints, I cannot move to some other place,” says Rashid Khan, a resident of Arif Nagar, who lost both his father and brother to the tragedy. He himself suffers breathing problems resulting from exposure to the deadly methyl isocyanate gas.

Shanta, another gas victim, says, “We have seen many things in the last few decades after the tragedy, now we believe that government should act fast.”

Forty seven year old Asghar says, “We want justice from the government. We also want that the government should pay adequate compensation to us.”

Activists’ claims have been backed by several studies over the years that say residents of the area have been drinking highly contaminated water that is injurious to human health. One such study, conducted by the public health engineering department in 1998, stated: “Large areas of Bhopal city, consisting of 10 wards, were badly affected by the disastrous methyl isocyanate gas leak. This gas has badly polluted the environment not only of the locality but also underground water reserves.”

In 1999, a Greenpeace study observed: “The water has been contaminated to a thousand times more than the average drinking water standards acceptable in developed countries.” According to a study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, water in the factory area recorded a high concentration of toxic waste, indicating the possibility of contamination at great depths. Likewise, a 1998 study by the Boston Citizen Environmental Laboratory claimed that water had been contaminated to a dangerous level.

Digvijay Singh, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, who governed the state from 1993 to 2003, always denied that underground water reserves were contaminated. To prove the point, then minister in charge of gas relief and rehabilitation, Arif Aqueel, drank water from taps located in areas around the plant.

In recent years, there has been some recognition of the plight of Bhopal’s residents. In a March 2004 judgment, an appellate court in the US held Union Carbide responsible for groundwater contamination. The court also declared that those affected by drinking contaminated water should receive compensation. Each day, about 4,500 patients queue up at government run outpatient departments complaining of respiratory diseases, stomach ailments, dysentery and nervous system disorders. The doctors at Hamidia and Bhopal hospitals consider the inflow alarming for most of these ailments – some passed on to the second generation – can be traced back to methly isocynate (MIC) gas. It had killed 16,000 people in 1984 and permanently harmed more than five lakh.

Eight years ago, volunteers of Greenpeace, along with representatives of the Bhopal communities, visited the Carbide plant and assessed the conditions at the factory site and its surrounding areas. They found stockpiles of toxic pesticides and hazardous waste scattered all around. There has been no improvement in the situation even today. The survey revealed contamination of land and ground water supplied as drinking water to inhabitants near the abandoned plant with heavy metal and chlorinated chemicals, including chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. The solid samples also showed contamination by lead, nickel, copper, chromium, chlorobenzene, Sevin and hexachlorocyclohexane.

Indeed, there is no parallel to the December 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in terms of the magnitude of destruction and the number of deaths. But the process of rendering justice to the victims has proved to be a deplorable legal tragedy. While the criminal case against those responsible for the disaster has been proceeding in the Bhopal District Court at a snail’s pace, the civil case seeking due compensation has been closed after the Indian Government and UCC arrived at a settlement before the Supreme Court in 1989. Under the settlement, UCC and its Indian subsidiary, UCIL, agreed to pay, and did pay, $470 million to the Government of India on behalf of all the victims.

Since then, the survivors of the tragedy have been questioning the unjust nature of the settlement and improper consideration of the compensation claims of individual victims and survivors. Besides, survivors deplored the extent of indifference within India to the magnitude of the tragedy, and its continuing consequences for the health of the survivors and their families.

The settlement clearly shows a double standard in treating victims of industrial disasters in India and elsewhere. Union Carbide and eight other companies paid US $ 4.2 billion as potential damages for Silicon Breast Implants to 650,000 claimants. If the award amount of $470 million were distributed equally among all the victims of Bhopal disaster each would get around $200. Many of the people did not get even that much relief.

The hope of the victims ever to receive justice received a setback with the merger of Union Carbide Corporation with Dow Chemicals. With the merger, UCC has vanished as an entity and Dow became the second largest chemical corporation in the world. In its submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission, USA, Union Carbide has deliberately omitted the mention of pending criminal liabilities of the corporation.

According to a press release issued by Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, the Bhopal “Padyatris” expect to reach New Delhi in the last week of March, when they hope to meet with the Prime Minister. Depending on the response of the Prime Minister the marchers may decide to go on an indefinite fast at the end of their 800 kilometers long march.

Information and Action:  Bhopal. Net — International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal

On the 25th Anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Massacre

Jan Sangarsh Morcha (Madhya Pradesh)

3rd December 2009: Public Meeting, Rally
Venue: Yadgar-e-Shahjahani Park  Bhopal

25 years ago, on the night of 2-3 December 1984, the terrible gas leak from the American multinational Union Carbide’s pesticide factory resulted, over the years, in the death of over 35,000 people and the chronic illness of over 3 lakh [300,000] people, of whom over 1 lakh were permanently maimed. The victims continue to fight for proper compensation, rehabilitation, livelihoods, decontamination of soil and water and criminal action against those responsible. Their 25 year old struggle is a saga of pain and courage.

The 25th anniversary of this massacre is an occasion for us to once again seriously examine the factors that make such a massacre possible, and what lessons we have learnt (or not learnt) from it? How do we stop more ‘Bhopals’? What is the nature of the industrialization and development paradigm that make such violence possible, and are our governments not pushing us down a path that lead to many, many more Bhopals?

Nuclear energy, SEZs, industrial agriculture, factories, mines, mega-dams, and the political economy of corporate loot are destroying the environment while lakhs of people are being robbed of their land, water and forests. The claim that the factories and mines will provide more employment is also proving to be a myth. It is clear that the State and global Imperialist forces are pushing an agenda that serves only their own vested interest. In this context, we request you to join us in Bhopal on the 2nd December 2009 for a National Meet on “Destructive Industrialisation and Distorted Development”, and on 3rd December for a Rally and Public Meeting.

We request those who cannot come to Bhopal to organize events in their own areas to show Solidarity with the struggle of Bhopal victims and against Corporate crime. We also request those who can, to help with financial contributions for the program. Please inform us regarding your participation so that we can make arrangements. Please circulate this appeal widely.

In solidarity,

Abdul Jabbar, Convener, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan (0755-2730241/274868, swabhimankandra)

Sunil, Samajwadi Jan Parishad (09425040452, sjpsunil)

Alok Agrawal, Narmada Bachao Andolan (09425928007, nbakhandwa)

Madhuri, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (09425313918, madhuri.jads)

Anurag Modi, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (09425041624, shramiks)

One Response to “No More Bhopals! 35,000 Killed Over 25 Years”

  1. Ka Frank said

    More on Bhopal from Al Jazeera, December 3, 2009

    Bhopal Survivors Demand Action

    Hundreds of residents of the Indian city of Bhopal have held a vigil to mark 25 years since a deadly chemical leak in the city caused the world’s worst industrial disaster. Survivors and local residents joined activists late on Wednesday to remember the thousands of victims of the leak from a pesticide plant owned by US chemical company Union Carbide on December 3, 1984.

    According to research conducted by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, between 8,000 and 10,000 people were killed in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

    About 25,000 others later died from the effects of exposure while government estimates say the fumes affected half a million. Activists say tens of thousands of people in Bhopal – many not even born at the time of the disaster – still suffer chronic illnesses related to the leak.

    Bhopal disaster

    Shortly after midnight on December 3, 1984, about 40 tonnes of the highly poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a tank at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal.

    The state-run Indian Council of Medical Research says 8,000-10,000 people were killed within three days and 25,000 more subsequently died from the effects of exposure. More than 500,000 people are estimated to have been affected by the leak.

    US chemical firm Union Carbide says the leak was an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee – never identified – and not lax safety standards or faulty plant design, as claimed by some activists.

    Union Carbide, owned by Dow Chemical, says the legal case was resolved in 1989 when it settled with the Indian government for $470m – compensation some activists say has not reached many victims.

    They say children born to parents exposed to the gas leak or poisoned by the contaminated water are suffering from cleft lips, missing palates, twisted limbs, varying degrees of brain damage and a range of skin, vision and breathing disorders.

    The state government says it has complied with a 2004 High Court order to clean up the waste at the site but critics say only a partial clearance of toxins was done.

    Studies released on the eve of the anniversary said more than 350 tonnes of toxic waste strewn around the site still pollutes soil and groundwater in the area, leading to cancer, congenital defects, immunity problems and other illnesses. The UK-based charity Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) said on Tuesday that there was evidence that “high levels of toxic chemicals” remained in the drinking water supply in 15 communities near the plant.

    Tests at Swiss and British laboratories indicated concentrations of some toxins were actually rising “as the chemicals leach through the soil and into the aquifer”, it said. The group said the government was not providing enough clean drinking water, forcing many residents to use the contaminated groundwater.

    “Not surprisingly, the populations in the areas surveyed have high rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness,” BMA said in the report.

    A separate study also released on Tuesday by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), showed a hand-pump 3km from the former Union Carbide plant contained 110 times the maximum concentration of the pesticide carbaryl deemed safe in Indian bottled water.

    Government denial

    The state government says residual chemicals in the ground are harmless and it is providing clean water to residents by tankers. It also dismisses assertions that the birth defects are related to the disaster.

    But the protesters gathered for Wednesday night’s vigil disagreed, demanding the government clean up the chemical waste from the site and the drinking water in the area.

    They also called for an official panel to work on social, economic and medical rehabilitation for the gas victims, saying that only part of the $470m compensation Union Carbide paid in settlement with the Indian government has reached victims.

    Union Carbide, which ran the Bhopal plant when the leak occurred, is now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, having been bought in 2001. Dow says responsibility for the factory now rests with the Madhya Pradesh government.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: