The gas tragedy is a sordid tale of an organised deceit against the victims to make sure their demand for justice was kept alive but never fulfilled.
For 30 years, the powers that be dangled a carrot of hope before them but didn’t use the stick against the perpetrators whose criminal negligence had not only claimed many lives but also left generations crippled.
This is evident from the history of the tragedy.
The facts reveal that the damage-control exercise for the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) had begun even before the relief operations could take off.
A VIP treatment to the former chairman of UCC, Warren Anderson, on his visit to India and Bhopal on December 7, 1984, was the first phase of deceit and delusion. Nobody knows at whose behest the genocide accused was let off. Observers link it to an alleged agreement between the government of India and the UCC.
That is the reason that till the time of Anderson’s death, the victims had been made to believe that some day the villain of the tragedy would be tried and convicted, they say.
How could the victims disbelieve the behind-scenes-managers? Because, the victims would read in the newspapers about courts asking the CBI for an update on Anderson’s extradition. But, the CBI kept giving them ambiguous replies till Anderson’s death.
Observers say even the way the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was made to abandon its survey of victims after 78,000 families, smacks of a larger conspiracy.
In fact, the decision-makers used an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) opinion instead and divided Bhopal into two zones – 36 wards affected by gas leak and 20 unaffected. Observers say the division of Bhopal meant the UCC had won half the battle.
In 1985, Justice NK Singh Commission was set up to know the truth of the disaster. But, when it started asking uncomfortable questions, the commission was disbanded. Later in 2010 Justice Kochar Commission was set up following a strong public outrage. The commission is again trying to know the truth behind the disaster.
In 1989, the CBI sought permission to visit UCC’s Florida (USA) plant to compare the safety measures with those at the Bhopal plant. The visit was allowed. But, the Government of India singed a settlement agreement with the UCC, which, ND Jaiprakash, member of Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, says, was meant to “scuttle the CBI visit to the US plant, which would have exposed the complete lack of safety measures at its Bhopal plant.”
The government agencies claimed that 90% of the affected population only had temporary injuries. However, the records were never maintained “completely” despite court directives.
In 1985-86 itself, yellow card for gas victims was proposed, 80,000 people were given the card but then the process stopped. In 1991, distribution of health book in two worst-affected wards started following court directives. But, the work went no further. Now camps are being organised to make smart cards for the gas victims following the Supreme Court order.
Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action says, “More than 3,50,000 gas victims visit the gas relief hospitals every year even now speaks volumes of the long-term effect of exposure to the gas on people. But, all that was not documented to benefit the UCC in courts.”
In July 1990, the UCC handed over the control of its deserted plant to the state industries department and left, leaving behind hundreds of metric tonnes of toxic waste, which remains to be disposed of. “Even when a tenant vacates your house, you go and see if everything is alright in the house but here, Digvijaya Singh government allowed Union Carbide to go just like that,” says Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan.
And last but not the least. In 1996, a Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice AM Ahmadi reduced charges against Indian officials of the UCC from culpable homicide to criminal negligence. Following his retirement, Justice Ahmadi became life-time chairman of the Bhopal Memorial Trust founded by the UCC.