Author : Mr. Apratim De
In the following article, the author has tried to discuss one of the world ’s most dangerous industrial disaster i.e. Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Also, the author has talked about how politics always overpowers humanity, good conscience and is concerned only with the fulfilment of their own motives.
“Many have been forced into destitution, some of the world’s poorest people beggared by one of the world’s richest corporations from which came platitudes and evasions but no help”- Indra Sinha, Bhopal Medical Appeal.
- On the early morning of December 3, 1984, along with the city of Bhopal, the entire country had witnessed one of the worst industrial disasters of the world. The incident happened when most of the people in the city were peacefully sleeping in their houses on the late night of 3rd December 1984.
- A grey cloudy gas called as Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) mixed with water as a result of which a combination of poisonous gas was formed which was later on discharged and ultimately got mixed in the air as a result of which a lot of people died including cattle and has also left behind many with deformities and disabilities.
- Moreover, the disaster was more devastating one as because there were no instructions or training given by the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) officials neither to the local population nor to the doctors about how to combat an emergency situation.
- So as a result of this when the people were reaching the hospitals with breathing troubles and blindness the doctors were unable to give them any medication. Moreover, people were not even warned about the incident through alarms and the company failed to provide with any evacuation plan as a result of which of many people lost their lives and many of them are still suffering from physical and mental disorders.
- Bhopal the capital of Madhya Pradesh is located in the centre of India. In 1969 a large US-based company manufacturing various types of chemicals had set up its first chemical plant in Madhya Pradesh and had named it Union Carbide India Limited also known as UCIL.
- Earlier, in the beginning, the company used to just import, mix and pack the chemicals from the US but later on to increase their profits and to expand their production the company had installed a production unit of Methyl cyanide (MIC) plant of 5000 tonnes to manufacture a cheap carbaryl pesticide known as Sevin.
- Actually, Methyl Isocyanide is produced by the reaction of monomethylamine with phosgene both these reactants were not produced in UCIL’s Bhopal manufacturing unit but were rather transported from other parts of the country. Later on, these were mixed with 1-naphthol to produce Sevin which was later on sold to different parts of the country.
- So in the entire process of manufacturing of sevin the most dangerous step is the mixing of all these ingredients and among these also the use of phosgene and MIC is worst. Phosgene was actually used during World War-2 after which the use of phosgene was banned in numerous countries. Now if we talk about methyl isocyanide then the biggest problem with the use of MIC is that its storage.
- Due to its low boiling point at 39 degree Celsius and high vapor pressure along with its chemical instability it is stored under refrigeration in dry stainless steel vessels. So as a result of it while using MIC in the manufacturing of the pesticide it has to be used very carefully and wisely. Also, according to the post-investigation reports it was seen that there was due negligence on the part of company officials as a result of which this accident had occurred.
The catastrophic night of 2nd December 1984
- As per the sources on the night of 2nd December 1984 there were some problems in the cooling system of the tank in which the methyl isocyanide(MIC) was stored as a result of which water entered into the tank either due to mechanical error or human error and in turn the water got mixed with the MIC stored in the tank.
- Later on out of this a violent exothermic reaction was formed which was catalyzed most probably due to corrosion of iron in the tanks lining. Thereafter, in the early hours of the next morning the tank was ruptured and as a result of it, a large volume of this harmful chemical was discharged into the air causing huge destruction.
- After the investigations, it was seen that both the company and government officials were equally responsible for this disaster and this disaster could have been avoided if proper precautions and necessary care was taken.
- As per the industry experts, this disaster could have been avoided if the company’s vent gas scrubber would have been operative that night as because the scrubber would have helped in removing the harmful elements from the mixture to a great extent as a result of which the damage which is caused would have been much lesser and a lot of lives could have been saved.
- Other than this the company was also negligent towards the maintenance of the machinery as because after the disaster when investigation was carried out it was clearly seen that the equipment which was used in production were not been maintained properly and lacked maintenance, like for instance the tank in which MIC was stored its cooling system was malfunctioning for quite a few months before the disaster and even many of the gauges in the control room were also not working effectively as a result of which it gave a negative reading and even on the night of 2nd December 1984 when the disaster had taken place the officers on duty that night didn’t rely on the reading of the gauge though that night the readings were correct and if proper decision was taken at that time then the disaster could have been averted.
- Moreover, the government was equally liable for this disaster as it had given permission to the company for setting up such a hazardous chemical plant in a large populous area and that too without any proper evacuation plan. Moreover, the government had never raised any doubts about the safety standards under which the company was operating.
Reports of International Medical Commission
- After this disaster, the various medical organizations both at national and international level visited the site of the disaster to carry on a deep study about what implications did the disaster have on the people and the environment and to find out a way for the treatment of the survivors.
- Moreover, organizations like the Permanent People’s Tribunal which is an international organization of healthcare, legal and environmental professionals in 1992 cam to Bhopal with its 13 physicians from all over the world to carry out its field work and also to find out the true reasons and loopholes which were responsible for this disaster. Also, the tribunal had also carried out a study to find out the toxibility of the MIC.
- As the disaster had occurred during the late hours at night so it resulted in more number of casualties as because most of the people were sleeping during that time and as a result of it most of them weren’t able to figure out about what had actually happened and as a result of it the casualties were more than not only the response time was less but also people were not warned about the disaster by any means.
- Moreover, neither the company nor the government was ready to combat such a devastating situation as a result of which due to the absence of any backup plan the death toll raised uncontrollably. Moreover, when the victims had gone to the hospitals for medications the doctor’s were also not able to treat the patients as because they were clueless about the medication to be given to such victims.
- Also, after this, the actual details and statistics of the deaths are not available till date as because most of the people during the disaster fled from the city to save their lives while many of the dead people were buried as soon as they died in order to prevent them from undergoing autopsy or post-mortem. As because the government feared that if the real reasons behind these deaths are revealed then the people would clearly understand that the government was equally responsible behind this disaster and this would in turn land up the government into trouble.
- In the next 24 hrs, about 1900 people died and the number went up further in the next few weeks. But the exact statistics are not available so far as the government denied and had also failed to maintain the exact statistics of the disaster. But it is crystal clear in front of everyone that the death toll was much higher than the one mentioned by the government.
Political power once against overpowered Humanity
- Yes, it’s true even in the late hours of 2nd December 1984 when the country was undergoing a huge crisis the political leaders were still busy in fulfilling their illicit political vendetta.
- Like rather than creating out a plan or to find out ways about how to combat such a crisis the leaders were busy in finding out ways of about how to suppress the situation acting to which many of the deceased victims of the disaster were buried before they could have undergone the post-mortem as because otherwise if the victims had undergone the post-mortem then it would have been revealed that how by neglecting the rules and rules the government had permitted the company to set up their manufacturing unit in a highly populous region of the city. Interestingly the reports of the Kochhar Commission also reflected upon how Warren Anderson then chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd was being helped in escaping from Bhopal to Delhi in a state aircraft which clearly reflects about how the then government was involved in helping the offenders from the clutches of the judiciary and the law enforcers. So these instances also reflect that how Indian Judiciary somewhere or the other always fails before the political power though it remains an independent organ as per the Indian constitution. Out of all this what is most disheartening is that how power and money always overpower humanity and mankind. Moreover, even after 34 years have passed after the disaster still the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy are awaiting justice.
Fight for Justice
- American Scenario:- In the US courts the case was dismissed on the ground of Forum Non-Conveniens which means “forum not agreeing”. This Latin maxim is applied by the courts in the cases where the court refuses to decide the matter when the parties have more appropriate forums to file the suit. Moreover, the law regarding Forum Non-Conveniens was established by the SC of U. S in the case of Gulf Oil Corporation v. Gilbert in which the SC will decide that whether the court should deal with the cases under Forum Non-Conveniens or not.
- So according to the US courts, no remedy was to be made available to the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy as the courts in the USA felt that the Indian courts have jurisdiction over the matter and therefore rejected the suit on the grounds of Forum Non-Conveniens.
- Indian Scenario:- After the courts in the United States had dismissed the case against Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) the battle against the corporate giant was continued in the Indian courts. Initially, the District Court Of Bhopal had passed an interim order in which it had asked the corporate giant to pay a compensation of Rs 350 crores but interestingly when the order of the district court was challenged in Madhya Pradesh High Court, then the HC ordered to reduce the total amount of compensation by 30%. So as a result Union Of India had challenged the order of the High Court before the Supreme Court to which SC had firstly criticized the way in which government had pursued the following case and stated it to be an unconventional method. As because instead of pursuing the principal lawsuit the government had moved ahead with the pretrial award. So as a result of this the SC of India had ordered the company to pay a full and final compensation of US $470 million to the Indian government against all the trails in the past, present and future, both civil and criminal arising out of the disaster.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is one of the worst industrial disasters which the world has ever witnessed. The Bhopal Gas Disaster is the best example of how profit and desire to earn more and more money is becoming more important than the human lives. But the most the saddest part of this accident was that this threat was foreseeable to both the company and the government. So rather than making profits and if proper precaution had been taken at the earliest that this catastrophic disaster would have been averted thus saving a lot of lives. Also, this tragedy not only makes us learn about how the company was irresponsible in its functioning and actions
but also this tells us that what type of people are running the government who only aim towards earning huge profits but are inhuman as well. As because no human being on this earth after the occurrence of such a massive disaster would look out for ways to suppress the incident and would help the offenders to escape thus increasing the pain and agony of the affected people.