More has appeared on Bhopal in the British media in recent days than perhaps at any other time since the disaster.
That’s because President Barack Obama has been railing against a company that used to be called British Petroleum and now — we are told — is just BP.
Nevertheless, British commentators across the political divide have vented the full of force of their moral outrage to ask Obama: ‘Yes, but what about your Bhopal?’
There is much anger here at the hypocrisy of Americans who fume over BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but skirt shiftily around Bhopal.
There are 59 ‘I Hate BP’ pages on Facebook, and none for ‘I Hate Union Carbide’. There is a sobre ‘Bhopal Disaster’ page — but only around 170 people like it, compared to nearly 8,600 signed up to the anti-BP campaign.
Outrage gave way to alarm in London when BP head Tony Hayward — a Brit — was hauled before US Congressmen in Washington last week for a hearing. From here, it looked like a very American show trial.
As in the Wild West, a man had to hang — it didn’t matter who. There was a distinct echo of Bhopal.
The man chairing the hearing on Capitol Hill was Henry Waxman — a California Democrat whose swift actions in the aftermath of Bhopal were instrumental in ensuring legislation that today protects Americans from accidental releases of toxic chemicals.
In 1985, Waxman had called for a US government inquiry into the Bhopal disaster.
But there will be no inquiry into the planet’s addiction to fossil fuels, which necessitates deep sea drilling of the kind that led to the accident in the Gulf of Mexico.
Or, indeed, into thoughtless uses of pesticides whose production process in Bhopal involved the highly toxic Methyl Isocyanate (MIC).
The Bhopal plant produced a pesticide known as Carbaryl, developed by Union Carbide in 1958. Alarmingly, it is entirely possible that we are living today with not only the tragic legacy of the MIC gas leak, but also the health effects of continuing Carbaryl use in India.
A study of Carbaryl use on brinjals, published in January 2010 in the Asian Journal of Agricultural Sciences, says residues of the pesticide persisted for up to 60 days in soil and 15 days in brinjal crops.
“The study suggests that the persistence of residues in soil and on crops would undoubtedly result in deleterious effect not only on the health of human but also on other livestock animals sooner or later,” say its authors from Dungar College, Rajasthan.
Such warnings have gone unheeded in the past, and may well be swept under the carpet in the future.