People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 06, 2009



Poison Pervades Next Generation�s Life As Well


Sadhna Karnik Pradhan


A WHOLE quarter of a century has passed since the deadly gas leakage from the US multinational Union Carbide�s plant in Bhopal killed more than 20,000 people, made lakhs more handicapped for life and shook the whole world by the extent of its horror.

On the night of December 2-3, 1984, about 40 tonnes of known and unknown killer gases came out from the plant, and these included MIC and other cyanides, which were used during the Second World War. The leakage claimed a large number of lives, and most of them were the poor working people who were then sleeping in their shanties. This made the leakage possibly the worst industrial disaster in the world. However, the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) and the government of India (GoI) did their best to hide the real facts about the tragedy, the kind of poisons leaked out and the needed remedial measures. The result is that lakhs of the affected people are even today writhing in pain and inching towards their inevitable death.        

Just like the sufferers of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Agent Orange attack in Vietnam and the Minamata tragedy in Japan, the next generations of the Bhopal victims too are bound to face the horrendous impact of the gas leakage tragedy.

Despite the immense loss of life and environment because of this industrial disaster, the GoI sold away the victims� agony at a very cheap price. Moreover, refusing to learn any lessons from this tragedy, the UPA government effected with the US a nuclear agreement, which too has immense potential to cause similar losses. This was a virtual sell-out of our national interests.

As we know now, the Union Carbide had been adopting two different security standards in its Bhopal plant and its plant in West Virginia (US). We also know that all the safety devices in the Bhopal plant were simultaneously kept closed on that fateful night. No wonder if there are people who think that the Bhopal tragedy was the consequence of a planned US conspiracy to have an experiment in chemical warfare.

On that fateful night, virtually the entire population of the city was running in the direction of the railway station so that they may somehow get out of the ambit of the leakage. But, to their misfortune, the wind was moving from the UCIL plant towards the railway station, with the result that very soon there were dead bodies littered all around in the area. Some of the railway employees, on duty at that time, tried to save the people, and themselves courted death in the process.

As for the central and the state governments, they immediately started a large-scale cleaning operation --- not to save the surviving people from any possible epidemic but to hide the real number of casualties. Many of the bodies removed were not even recorded. Hundreds of dead bodies and also a large number of only unconscious people were dumped into garbage trucks and thrown into the Narmada river. Many of those who gained consciousness later on, somehow came out of the river and reached home to recall the government�s misdemeanour. Same thing happened when the dead bodies were being cremated; those who were only unconscious felt the heat, regained a modicum of consciousness and ran away from the funeral pyres.

The government�s callousness and criminal apathy continued even later. The surviving gas affected people did not receive any proper treatment and died as a consequence; the remaining are slowly inching towards their inevitable death. Even after 25 years of this ghastly tragedy, they are facing a difficult situation. In the recent years, the number of deaths because of serious ailments of kidney, heart and lungs as well as because of cancer has sharply increased.

At the same time, Bhopal Memorial and other gas relief hospitals are criminally ignoring the seriously affected but poor people, and are busy treating the select few who can give them something. The government has failed to arrange any adequate number of specialist doctors or diagnostic machines, medicines etc in hospitals. The seriously affected people are feeling compelled to go in for costly private treatment, no matter if their economic condition further deteriorates in the process. This is pushing a large number of people below the poverty line.

In these long 25 years, a whole lot of infants have become young. Such youth from poor families are facing double hardship. On the one hand, they are unable to do any strenuous job to earn a living, as they are themselves seriously affected. On the other, they are obliged to look after their aged and ailing parents and siblings who are no less affected. This has immensely added to the misery of these families and this intensified misery is, in its turn, creating several unexpected familial complications and social problems.

As for the compensation to those seriously affected, the central and state governments are guilty of having perpetrated the biggest medical scam of the century. The government put as many as 99 per cent of the extremely seriously affected people in Claim Medical Categories A and B. Now the Claim Medical Category A means that the person concerned was not affected by the poisonous gases while Claim Medical Category B means that the persons were temporarily affected but have now been cured. To the people in this category, a pittance of just Rs 25,000 was announced as compensation and, moreover, the amount of interim relief (Rs 12,000) was deducted from the money a victim was given. Now the victims have been criminally left to their fate with this meagre money.

In the year 1989, the central and state governments effected an out-of-court settlement with the Union Carbide after presenting false and misleading data in the Supreme Court. The government told the court that only about 3,000 people had died white it distributed the settlement money among the family members of the dead. Similarly, it put the number of seriously affected people at 1,00,000 but distributed the money among 6,00,000 persons. In this way, every gas affected person got only one sixth of what he could otherwise get. As for the gas victims who died after 1992, the government is refusing to accept that they died because of gas. As such, the family members of such victims are not getting any compensation whatsoever. The writ filed by a committee for the Bhopal gas victims for a review of the unjust compensation policy of the government is pending in the High Court for the last 25 years. In 1987, the present writer and her Public Health Centre and Struggle Committee began their protest against the UCIL�s agreement with the GoI, and demanded an interim relief for the victims through a writ in the district court. The protest fructified and the Bhopal district court ordered the payment of interim relief for lakhs of victims.

The crisis facing the Bhopal gas victims gets intensified by the fact that the UCIL has, over a periods of 35 years, dumped thousands of tonnes of highly poisonous chemicals in the areas adjoining its plant. These may cause serious harms to the people�s brains, kidneys, hearts and lungs. The poison-polluted water also poses severe threats to the people�s lives.

While scientific tests are required to find out the extent of poison-pollution in the soil and water over an area of several square kilometres, which threatens the life of many more generations to come, the state government has not so far arranged the supply of potable water to the victims despite the Supreme Court�s injunction.

The government has put in the cold storage the recommendations made by several committees, including the Medical Advisory & Monitoring Committee constituted by the Supreme Court and the Central Coordination Committee constituted by the prime minister.

The anti-people policies of the successive governments at the centre and in the state, the fast rising prices and the long and continuing illness of the gas victims has thrown half of the population of Bhopal into the throes of a severe crisis. Most of the victims are unorganised workers who don�t even have BPL cards. Nor are they in a position to do any hard work to earn a living. But the central and state governments have not yet taken any worthwhile steps for these people�s rehabilitation though they are prepared to spend as much as Rs 10 crore on a cement-concrete memorial inside the factory�s premises. As for the thousands of tonnes of poisonous substances that are still stored inside the factory, which another US multinational called Dow Chemicals purchased in 2001, union environment minister Jairam Ramesh and MP�s gas relief minister Babulal Gaur of the BJP are constantly making misleading statements and thus giving a clean chit to the Killer Carbide.

The struggle of the Bhopal gas victims is not just a struggle for compensations; it is against the double standards of US imperialism, against its tendency to devalue the life of a common man in a third world country, and a part of the struggle of the working people of the developing world.

On the 25th anniversary of this tragedy of immense proportions, more than 40 organisations including the CITU, AITUC and the All India People�s Science Network organised a number of programmes to raise the people�s consciousness on the issue and they are now going to decide the further course of action. A series of street corner meetings, bigger meetings, conventions, leaflet distribution and demonstrations is on.

The attempt is to continue the 25 years old struggle of the Bhopal gas victims till they get full justice, to link this struggle with the wider anti-imperialist struggle, and to proclaim ---