‘Case of failed regulation’: UK environment agency chief on Bhopal gas horror
The Bhopal disaster is the reason why regulation of the right kind that has teeth is important because not everyone plays by the rules, said Britain’s environment agency chief.Updated: Aug 06, 2020 12:06 IST
Noting that no one has yet been held accountable for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster that killed at least 3,700 people, the head of Britain’s Environment Agency (EA) has said that the incident is a “textbook example of failed regulation”.
James Bevan, former British high commissioner to India and now head of the British agency tasked with protecting the environment, highlighted the importance of ‘good regulation’ in a speech to the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday.
Using the example of the Bhopal disaster, Bevan said good regulation protects people and the environment from harm; creates a level playing field for business, allowing well-run companies to thrive and stopping those who do not want to play by the rules from undercutting them.
He said: “Imagine a city where hundreds of thousands of people live. In the centre is a huge industrial plant which produces chemicals. One night there is an explosion in the plant. A deadly gas settles over much of the city and the sleeping people. By morning thousands are dead”.
“The agony doesn’t stop there: in the decades that follow, many thousands more die from the effects of the gas, or from birth deformities; hundreds of thousands more have their lives ruined; and the land and water around the plant are poisoned. This is not fiction”.
“This happened, in 1984 in a place called Bhopal in India. I’ve been to Bhopal and visited the site. The chemical plant is still there, derelict and rusting away. People still live all around it, many of them the victims of the explosion or their children. The land is still poisoned and the water is still undrinkable. Nearly forty years on, no one has been held accountable. The sense of loss and injustice is visceral”.
“Bhopal is a textbook example of failed regulation. A hazardous industrial plant was allowed to operate in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world without proper checks and precautions until one day disaster struck”, he said.
The Bhopal disaster, Bevan added, is the reason why he believes in regulation of the right kind that has teeth, because not everyone plays by the rules. He cited examples of how regulation has made a major difference in England’s environment.
The disaster was caused by chemical methyl isocyanate leaking from the Union Carbide’s plant on the night of December 2 and 3, 1984, killing at least 3,700 people, hundreds of thousands injured and many more adversely affected for life.