The 37th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the the world’s worst industrial disasters in which 3,000-4000 people lost their lives on being exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other highly toxic substances, is being observed on Friday.
Every year on this day, thousands of people gather to remember those who had lost their lives in the tragedy. Besides, in the immediate post-leak situation, more than half of the city’s population complained of coughing, itchy eyes, skin and breathing problems. Tens of thousands suffered from blindness and ulcers.
Friday marks 37 years of the tragedy and sadly, the survivors still await justice. For them, justice remained elusive as none of the main culprits have been jailed so far. In the absence of adequate compensation and medical treatment they are left with no choice but to survive with damaged lungs and other complications.
Seventy two-year-old Bano Bi, who lost four members of her family, and is surviving with multiple diseases, said, “Thousands of people died and lakhs were affected by the toxic gases but the survivors were not compensated properly. Unfortunately, it did not stop there as the young generation is also bearing its brunt.”
“Several women, who were children then, are facing multiple issues, including miscarriages or infertility. How will you compensate them?” a weeping Bano asked.
Thirty seven years ago on this day, India experienced a horror of untold magnitude in the form of the Bhopal gas leak in which over 5,00,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other highly toxic substances like carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, etc that made their way into and around the small towns located near the plant.
On the intervening night of December 2-3, about 40 tonnes of the dangerous gas methyl isocyanate escaped from an insecticide plant that was owned by the Indian subsidiary of the American firm Union Carbide Corporation.
The incident had taken place at Plant Number C of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. As per reports, the leak occurred when water entered tank number 610 containing 42 tonnes of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC).
The result was a runaway chemical reaction that vented highly-toxic MIC gas into the atmosphere. The gas cloud consisted of MIC and other gases like carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, etc, all of which were extremely toxic to humans and animals.
According to the Madhya Pradesh government’s estimates, the tragedy killed 3,787 people in and around Bhopal. However, the death toll and the number of affected people has always been debatable till today.
Many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. Children born in the affected areas had twisted arms and legs, extra limbs or body parts, musculoskeletal disorders, brain damage and underweight issues.
The legal proceedings between India, Union Carbide and the US began right after the catastrophe. The government passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985, which allowed it to act as the legal representative of the victims.
In June 2010, seven former employees of Union Carbide, who were all Indian nationals, were convicted of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment. However, they were later released on bail.
NGOs working for the rights of the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster say that various governments in Madhya Pradesh and at the Centre have failed to bring the culprits to book.
“We would like the world to know that even after 37 years of the world’s worst industrial disaster, justice remains elusive for survivors,” said Rashida Bi, who heads the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh.