38 yrs on, 1.2 lakh Bhopal residents carry gas tragedy scars, fight for justice

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the worlds largest and most lethal chemical disaster, occurred on the intervening night of December 2 and 3 in 1984, 38 years ago. Its aftermath continues to wreak havoc in the lives of hundreds of thousands of survivors.

According to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation (BGTRR) of the Madhya Pradesh government, which functions under the supervision of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR ), more than 120,000 people continue to suffer from chronic illnesses and several hundreds continue to die untimely deaths due to cancer, lung problems, kidney failure and immunological damage.

Reports also suggested that thousands of children are being born with birth defects. A global toxic hotspot exists in the middle of the city which has contaminated the soil and groundwater for more than two lakh people but no clean up is even in sight. The annual report of the ICMR run Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Center (BMHRC) released in 2016-17, mentioned that from the period between 1998-2016, around 50.4 per cent of gas exposed persons suffered from cardiovascular problems and 59.6 per cent suffer from pulmonary problems.

IANS spoke to various persons associated with different authorities, including doctors, sufferers and relatives of the victims and also those looking after issues like rehabilitation and compensation. It has learnt that though a lot of work has been done in the last many years, there are several issues that still remain unresolved.

First and foremost, the difference in the number of deaths which occurred due to this chemical disaster. Surveys conducted by agencies at different times have given a different figure of casualties. Some earlier reports suggested the number of casualties was between 5000-6000, while in some other reports, the number of deaths have increased up to 15,000. And some other reports claimed the death toll could be over one lakh, however, there is no accurate data regarding the number of casualties.

For instance, ICMR’s report in its survey conducted between 1984-1993, has mentioned as many as 9,667 deaths attributable to the disaster up to 1994. Statistical projection beyond 1994 provides a figure of 23,000 till 2009.

In a letter written in 2010 by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for recommendation of more compensation to the kin of the victims and the survivors, it was mentioned that, “There at least 10,047 persons, who should be counted in death figure.”

Other issues which still remain unresolved include assessment of cleaning of toxic waste lying inside and outside the Union Carbide factory.

More importantly, one of the three iron tanks (Tank – E610), whose malfunctioning had resulted in the leakage of toxic MIC gas and caused the deaths of around 3,000 people within a few hours after the leak, is still lying along the roadside within the premises. The reports suggest that the Bhopal UCIL facility had housed three underground — 68,000 liters liquid MIC storage tanks, named E610, E611 and E612.

Further, a legal battle to seek justice and compensation still continues. In a fresh development, the Supreme Court, earlier in September this year, asked the Centre to clear its stand on additional compensation.

As per reports, in response, the Centre has submitted that it would pursue its curative petition seeking Rs 7,844 crore as additional funds from successor firms of the US-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) for giving compensation to the victims of the gas tragedy. The matter will now be taken up for hearing on January 10, 2023.




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