Half the citizens of India below 30 years of age were not even born when the disaster occurred at UCC Bhopal, hence it is important that the memory of the criminality of that event is kept alive. Now, on the 5th of December a film Bhopal a Prayer for Rain is being released, a film that portrays Warren Anderson, the then managing director of UCC as a savior. He visited Bhopal for less than a day, and was flown out of the country by the Chief Ministry of Madhya Pradesh, never to return. He was declared an absconder by the Criminal Court and a request for his extradition made to the USA was declined on technical grounds. He died on the 29th of September 2014, but in these days of Internet, this was kept a secret until one month thereafter. On receiving the information, victims of the tragedy, put up his photograph and spat on it, that is all they could do to vent their anger,
At 2 am on 3rd December 1984, a poisonous gas escaped from the Indian facility of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), killing as it swept along, over 2,000 instantly and leaving more than five lakhs injured.
We will never know the cause of the leak, as no enquiry was conducted. When asked to disclose the chemical composition of the toxic substance, UCC claimed trade secrecy and refused. Somewhat like the argument of Coca-Cola! What is worse, the company offered no advice on the line of treatment for the exposed population which could have helped minimize death and injury. On the contrary, they said 'it is nothing, only tear gas.' Efforts by voluntary organisations to treat them with sodium thiosulphate as an antidote was prevented, as then it would be clear that it was cyanide that killed the local population.
The litigation was settled behind the backs of the victims for a mere 470 Million USD. Not only was the amount inadequate but also the number of dead and injured was grossly under estimated.
UCC itself was taken over by Dow Chemicals hence disappearing from the legal regime without a trace.
Today, there are millions of tons of toxic waste and the soil is contaminated with heavy metals and persistent organic contaminants in and around the premises and the ground water is also contaminated.
The morbidity rate of the area is 19.17 percent as compared with 5.16 in the non-affected area. People who were exposed to the disaster continue to suffer renal failure and other health problems. Children are being born malformed.
So what are the lessons learnt if any?
Crime knows no boundaries, while punishment is confined to national boundaries.
We should get together and lobby for an international tribunal to entertain complaints of corporate crime. Not only are the corporations' multinational and can cause damage beyond national boundaries, but they indulge in double standards of safety for third world countries where labour is cheap and regulatory regimes weak. National governments are also not able to take on the might of the multinational corporations whose net worth is often more than the GDP of a country.
We must ensure that there are NO MORE BHOPALS.