Union Carbide factory a daily reminder for Bhopal of havoc it wreaked

It has been 38 years since the fateful intervening night of December 2 and 3 when the world’s worst chemical industrial disaster -‘Bhopal Gas Tragedy 1984’ — swallowed thousands of people, animals and birds within a span of a few hours. Besides, lakhs of people left with prolonged illnesses and incurable diseases are still running from one to another hospital for treatment.

Even after nearly four decades, the aftermath of that disaster is visible here in many ways — like anyone visiting any government-run hospital in Bhopal, the patient registration form given at the OPD counter will have a specific disclosure before reaching the doctor, that is -‘Are you affected by the Bhopal gas disaster?

People living in J.P. Nagar, which is located hardly 200 metres from the boundary wall of the 85-acre Union Carbide factory, would often be seen peeking into the site through the broken boundary wall, even children would be seen playing in the backyard of the factory.

Around half a dozen buildings, which include offices, guest rooms, canteen for employees and workers, and so on situated at different locations at the site are in a dilapidated state. Each one of these buildings had a specific role to play in the process of making and storing of the highly toxic substance — methyl isocyanate (MIC).

Surrounded by dense bushes, and a warning note as a prohibited zone for general public, the only building appearing to be in a better condition is the three-storey structure which used to be the office and the residence of senior employees of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), an American chemical corporation owned by Dow Chemical company. In the other buildings, time and thieves have left their mark.

Apart from the buildings, some other residue such as big size tanks, iron pipes along with flare towers and some other material are also visible. A concrete portion of land within its boundary, located hardly 300-350 meters away from the MIC production site, appeared to be a helipad.

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 seen lying along the roadside within the premises. Reports suggest that the Bhopal UCIL facility had housed three underground 68,000 litres liquid MIC storage tanks, named E610, E611 and E612.

The underground tank E610, that had stored around 42 tonnes of MIC gas at the time of the disaster on the intervening night of December 2 and 3 was removed from its foundation and set aside later in 2010.

Outside the factory, the iconic statue of a woman with a child on her lap gasping for breath some 200 metres from Union Carbide factory’s boundary wall in JP Nagar colony, encapsulates the pain and agony of every 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victim.

It is a memorial dedicated to the victims by a Dutch sculptor Ruth Waterman, during a visit to Bhopal in 1985 and speaks volumes of the trauma and misery endured by the victims. This iconic statue reminds of the screams of people who were running haphazardly shouting “bhago bhago, gas leak ho gayee hai” (run-run, gas is leaking) on that fateful night 38 years ago.

20221202-110405

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