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Bhopal: 28 years of 'toxic' neglect

It is tragic that the capital of Madhya Pradesh has become a prefix to what the world calls 'Bhopal Gas Tragedy'. Just as Chernobyl would always remain a disastrous nuclear plant and not a Ukrainian city that had been on the forefront of Russian religious history.

bhopal Updated: Dec 03, 2012 16:30 IST
Dwaipayan Bose

It is tragic that the capital of Madhya Pradesh has become a prefix to what the world calls 'Bhopal Gas Tragedy'. Just as Chernobyl would always remain a disastrous nuclear plant and not a Ukrainian city that had been on the forefront of Russian religious history.

Ironically, it is not the big, bad world which perpetuates this image of Bhopal. It is us.

With toxic waste still lying around the Union Carbide plant, a gas victims' widows colony that looks like a disaster zone itself, a post-1984 generation that suffers from physical and mental impairments by virtue of being born to those who inhaled the deadly methyl isocyanate and a 'system' that pays a yearly lip service (like it will do today) - it certainly is no shocker that Bhopal retains this dubious distinction.

Over the last 28 years, reams of newsprint and spools of film have been used to portray the tragedy and its victims, governments have come and gone, courts have issued rulings, an empowered group of ministers deliberated, activists and NGOs shouted from rooftops and even the Olympics came under cloud.

But in Kapila Nagar, five-year-old Taiba cannot stand straight and talks only in monosyllables because 23 years before her birth her unfortunate parents went to sleep one night only to wake up inside a gas chamber.

In 22 settlements near the epicentre of the disaster people are still forced to drink water contaminated by hazardous chemical waste left behind by Union Carbide.

At Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre, the department of pulmonary medicine continues to be non-functional even though lung infection and respiratory disorder is the most common ailment among the patients it was built to heal.

And 350 metric tonnes of packaged toxic waste -- plus 'unpackaged' waste five times that quantity -- wait, to this day, to be incinerated.

Sadly, it will always be called 'Bhopal Gas Tragedy'.

In this file photo, a worker cleans the dust as he displays a panel of photographs of people who died in the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster at the forensic department of Gandhi Medical college in Bhopal.

Anderson lives luxurious life
Burning of the then chief executive officer of Union Carbide Warren Anderson's effigy by Bhopal gas victims marks the Bhopal Gas Tragedy anniversary every year. It has become quite a custom now but there is hardly any possibility of Anderson facing the judicial process in the country.

Now the successive governments in the state and at the Centre and the government agencies were serious in serving the court's arrest warrant to him and getting him back to India through extradition process could be gauged from the fact that his whereabouts were located as many as 18 years after the tragedy in New York, that too not by any Indian agency but Greenpeace International activists.

The activists not only paid a visit to Anderson's mansion but handed him over an arrest warrant too.

A feature by the organisation on August 29, 2002 said its campaigner in the US Casey Harrell personally visited Anderson in his luxury home where he refused to comment on the disaster.

- Ranjan Srivastava

No aid for brave men of gas tragedy
Three uniformed men stood tall on the intervening night of December 2/3, 1984 and many more hours after that despite the life-threatening situation to ensure that maximum people could be saved from the worst industrial disaster of the world.

All three -- two police officers and an armyman -- managed to survive the holocaust but carry deep scars in the form of severe health complications even today. But there is one common scar that hurts all these three ex-officers the deepest.

None of them (and in two cases their families) were paid any compensation meant for the gas victims though they were in the thick of action during the gravest hours and badly struck by the toxic MiC fumes. Also no recognition came their way for their life-saving action.

-- Sravani Sarkar and Ashutosh Shukla

In this file photo, a man stands inside the abandoned Union Carbide Factory in Bhopal. (AFP)

Toxic waste still haunt the locals
The Madhya Pradesh government's efforts for the past three years to dispose of 346 tonnes of Union Carbide toxic waste have failed to bear fruit. The proposal to dispose of the highly toxic waste in a treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Pithampur has met with stiff opposition from the locals.

The villagers near the facility and the NGOs have raised apprehension of adverse impact on the environment due to disposal of the Union Carbide waste in the TSDF in Pithampur. However, officials of Ramkay Enviro Engineers, who are operating the facility, have assured that all the safety norms were being adhered to and the emission levels were being monitored by the pollution boards.

-- Manoj Ahuja