Three decades after a chemicals factory spewed a poisonous gas killing thousands of people in the city, social activists and survivors began converging here on Tuesday, seeking to ensure justice for victims still suffering from what is billed the world’s worst industrial accident.
Both the central and state governments are in denial about the scale of the gas tragedy whose effects include high rates of cancer, physically deformed babies and respiratory problems in successive generations of victims, activists say.
The disaster occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984. It officially killed more than 5,000 people, a number hotly contested by activists who say, over the years, up to 25,000 people have died and tens of thousands been maimed and sickened by deadly methyl iso-cyanate (MiC) gas.
Jameela Bi, a resident of JP Nagar, bang opposite the abandoned Union Carbide factory, is among thousands of survivors whose predominant emotion is dejection and anger at the failure of successive governments to provide succor or justice.
"Even 30 years after the tragedy we continue to survive in the worst conditions," she said.
"Governments have betrayed us on all fronts, especially the meagre compensation that we were offered for such huge losses. We really have no hope left."
Life appeared to go on as usual for the likes of Jameela Bi – full of struggle and pain - even as Bhopal once again turned into a major arena for national and international activism on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the manmade calamity.
On Tuesday, led by local activists and their supporters from India and abroad, a string of events were organised to mark the tragedy's 30th anniversary.
A bevy of national and international journalists captured torch rallies, burning of effigies, street plays, inauguration of a special museum and press conferences addressed by international trade union activists.
At most of these events, the authorities were slammed for failing to heal the wounds of the survivors even after so many years.
"The basic point is that governments have learnt no lesson in the three decades and continue to play into hands of international capitalist forces without caring even a bit about its own people," Abdul Jabbar, an activist says.
Over the past years, only about 90% of the survivors have been given a meagre Rs 25,000 as compensation. Besides, they still struggle for medical care, and in the absence of any research to prove the long term effects of MiC gas, healthcare efforts have been half-baked, Rachna Dhingra, another activist, said.
The 20,000 metric tonne undisposed hazardous waste on the abandoned factory premises and the areas around it has contaminated the soil and water in the vicinity and continues to impact the health of people in the area.
A major sore point with survivors is the fact that the main accused, the then chairman of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, died two months ago without facing justice, while the Indian accused were sentenced to mere two years in jail and monetary fines, 26 years after the tragedy. They are now out on bail.
“We did not receive any tangible relief over the last 30 years from the apathetic governments, but what we have achieved is the determination to fight on for our rights and we hope to pass it on to the next generation,” said survivor Shanti Devi, 75, getting ready for a torch rally on the eve of the 30th anniversary.