Doing right by Bhopal victims

Updated on Oct 12, 2022 07:56 PM IST

The central government’s ask for enhanced compensation for the gas leak victims is welcome. It will help achieve some justice

Many who survived that fateful night and those suffering from the disaster’s intergenerational impacts say they live in a terrible place and a cursed life (HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
Many who survived that fateful night and those suffering from the disaster’s intergenerational impacts say they live in a terrible place and a cursed life (HT PHOTO)
ByHT Editorial

On the night of December 2-3, 1984, the lives of the residents of JP Nagar in the outskirts of Bhopal changed forever after 40 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas was released into the air from a factory owned by Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), now a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company. The industrial disaster -- the world’s worst to date -- killed 5,000 people instantly and left tens of thousands with prolonged pain, cancer, stillbirths, miscarriages, and lung and heart diseases. Many who survived that fateful night and those suffering from the disaster’s intergenerational impacts say they live in a terrible place and a cursed life.

In the last 38 years, the Bhopal gas disaster case has seen several twists and turns. In 1985, India sued UCIL for $3.3 billion in the United States. But in 1989, the central government and UCIL struck an out-of-court deal for $470 million as compensation, described by victims as grossly inadequate. In 2010, curative pleas were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (later junked) and the Centre, seeking enhancement of damages. It said the 1989 compensation was based on a preliminary assessment of 3,000 deaths, 20,000 people suffering from severe injuries and 50,000 from minor ones. Since then, it said, the death figures rose to 5,295, with 35,000 people suffering from serious injuries and 527,000 from minor ones. On Tuesday, the Centre assured a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC) that it would press the 2010 curative petition, seeking compensation over and above the $470 million paid by UCIL.

The Centre’s stand is welcome, and attorney general R Venkataramani’s comments that the “government cannot abandon the victims,” and that “it is a tragedy unfolding everyday” are reassuring. Bhopal survivor organisations have always said that UCIL suppressed internal documents that showed that exposure to the leaked gas was known to cause permanent damage and pushed the government to agree to a paltry settlement in 1989. Surveys done by Bhopal campaign groups documented that other than irreversible health impacts, the toxic waste from the factory, which contains six persistent organic pollutants banned by the United Nations for their highly poisonous impact, have now reached 40 areas in the city, and continues to spread. As the government pursues the curative petition, it’s also vital that the number of deaths, the intergenerational impact of the leak, the extent of the injury and the environmental impact are duly assessed. A comprehensive assessment will make the complete picture of the terrible catastrophe public, serve as a cautionary tale and also bolster the plea.

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Thursday, December 08, 2022
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