Ground zero of the Bhopal gas disaster, the defunct pesticide factory is still not ready to leave us. We have been living for the Past 2 decades with the Gas Tragedy as a BIG DISASTER but had paid no attention to the hazardous waste lying at the factory. Environment and pollution was never the focus of the case although tall claims have been made.
I would like to take you to the journey along with me in the last 2 decades.
Around 1 a.m. on Monday, the 3rd of December, 1984, in a densely populated region in my City Bhopal poisonous vapor burst from the tall stacks of the Union Carbide pesticide plant. It was highly toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate. Of the 800,000 people living in Bhopal at the time, 2,000 died immediately, and as many as 300,000 were injured. In addition, about 7,000 animals were injured, of which about one thousand were killed.
It was confirmed later that the accident started when a tank containing methyl iso cyanate (MIC) leaked. MIC is an extremely reactive chemical and is used in production of the insecticide carbaryl. It is presumed that the scientific reason for the accident at Bhopal is that water entered the tank where about 40 cubic meters of MIC was stored. When water and MIC mixed, an exothermic chemical reaction started, producing a lot of heat. As a result, the safety valve of the tank burst because of the increase in pressure. This burst was so violent that the coating of concrete around the tank also broke. The gas leaked from a 30 m high chimney which was not enough to reduce the effects of the discharge. The high moisture content (aerosol) in the discharge when evaporated gave rise to a heavy gas which rapidly sank to the ground. The cold weather was an add on to the catastrophe .The weak wind who frequently altered direction assisted the gas to wrap more area in a short time. It caused a slow dilution of gas and thus allowed the poisonous gas to swell and extend to huge distances.
Accident, catastrophe, crisis, conspiracy, disaster, experiment, massacre Negligence, sabotage , all sorts of words except responsibility have been used with the nightmare. Till date no official count of casualties has ever been done, estimates based on hospital and rehabilitation records show that about 20,000 people died and about 5.7 lakh suffered bodily damage, making it by far the world’s worst industrial disaster ever.
The outcry for relief for the victims and punishment began…. Besides the other dimension of the ongoing tragedy of Bhopal which is the poisonous chemical waste lying around in the abandoned premises of the pesticide plant. Several committees inspected it and found 44,000 kgs of tarry residues and 25,000 kgs of alpha naphthal lying in the open since 1984.
In February 1989, the Supreme Court announced a settlement for Bhopal victims under which Union Carbide agreed to pay Rs 713 crore for compensation to victims dropping a criminal cases .At the time of the Supreme Court Judgment in 1989 the case was fought for compensation and Hospital.
The settlement was made and again in 1991 it was made as a relief. Ranganath Misra, former Chief Justice of India pronounced both the judgments. The Supreme Court severed the criminal charges from the civil claims, but allowed the civil settlement to stand "undisturbed" only on certain conditions, which included the criminal prosecution of the fugitive.
In January 1991, Parliament enacted the Public Liability Insurance Act (PLIA), giving statutory recognition to no-fault liability. Under this Act, victims of a hazardous industrial accident are unrestricted to compensation at prescribed levels, without providing any proof of negligence. The maximum compensation under the Act, however, is limited to a paltry Rs.25,000 although the right of a victim to claim larger damages under any other law is expressly snobbish.
In pursuance of decisions taken at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (in which India participated) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The National Environment Tribunal Act (NETA), 1995 was passed which extended the application of absolute liability without limitation to all cases where death or injury to a person (other than a workman) or damage to any property or the environment resulted from an accident involving a hazardous substance. The “owner”, who is defined as a person who owns or has control over the handling of any hazardous substance at the time of the accident, is liable to compensate the victims on a no-fault basis. Application for compensation may be made to the tribunal established under the Act. The quests of the survivors of the gas tragedy for just compensation and the Supreme Court’s reluctance to grant it form a distressing chapter in the history of disaster litigation in India.
After selling its shares to Eveready Industries India Ltd in the mid-1990s a decade after in 1997 the new Boss commissioned to the Nagpur-based National Environ mental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for a study of the contaminated site which confirmed high levels of toxins and identified the locations of contamination in the factory.
In 1999, the global NGO, Greenpeace, conducted a similar study in and around the factory. This report also confirmed toxic waste on a massive scale.
Bhopal activists continued the matter in the New York district court on the demand of relief for personal injury and property damaged because of continuing release of pollutants from the factory. The Campaign began on international level.
In 2004, Alok Pratap Singh filed a public interest petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court petitioning that Dow is responsible for the pollution at the site and sought directions from the court.
The Indian Council for Medical Research and studies who was asked to conduct long-term epidemiological research right after the disaster was abruptly discontinued in 1994.
Abdul Jabbar a known name was leading the Fight under Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sang than . He claimed that the waste lying in the factory was from 1978 onwards, much before the gas leaked. Originally UCC and now Dow—is the polluter and must pay. Which was not wrong at all
Meanwhile frantic lobbying in the corridors of power had already begun. In May 2005, the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers moved the court for directions to Dow to deposit Rs 100 crore as advance for environmental remediation because the court had been stressing on clean-up before fixing liability.
On July 2006, Ratan Tata in the capacity of the head of US-India CEO Forum wrote letters to the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and the then finance minister P Chidambaram, offering to create a site-remediation fund with contribution from the Indian industry.
“Dow has mentioned in their letter that it is critical for them to have the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers to withdraw their application for financial deposit by Dow against the remediation cost as that application implies that the government of India views Dow as ‘liable’ in the Bhopal Gas disaster case,” said Tata in another letter to Ahluwalia on November 28, 2006
The Court directed that the 390-odd tonnes of waste collected should be treated and in 2007 ordered the waste be sent to a private facility in Gujarat but the Gujarat Government who initially gave permission for transport of hazardous waste from neighboring Madhya Pradesh refused the waste after accepting the orders.
The adequacy of the waste-disposal facility of Bharuch Enviro-Infrastructure Ltd (BEIL) in Ankleshwar in Gujarat was always in question. Don’t know if among the persons who are reading are aware about the Waste oil and sludge—all paid for by industries—were leaking from barrels at Bharuch Enviro Infrastructure Ltd ((BEIL)) that caught fire.
(BEIL) had waste lying there for up to two years, even though the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) had allowed it 90 days’ storage time.
What did Pollution control boards did under section 15 of the Environment Protection Act in case of loss of health or vegetation? Still Nobody knows the truth.
Disposal facilities are not the final solution, but are good business as long as subsidized says our experts. Three private companies—Ramky Enviro Infrastructures Ltd, Gujarat Environment Protection and Infrastructure Ltd (GEIPL) and UPL Environmental Engineers Ltd—among them have built 22 tsdfs (see: Waste managers). With 16 tsdfs, Ramky Enviro Infrastructure has the biggest share in the business with a turnover of Rs 200 crore.
It was only in early 2009 BEIL owner Raju Shroff’s owner of the NGO wrote a letter to the Union government, admitting that his company’s facility are inadequate and strained because of existing waste disposal commitments. In light of this “it will be difficult for us to take further waste from outside the (member) industries for incineration”. This came after the high court threatened to issue contempt orders against Gujarat for refusing the waste of Bhopal, and the Gujarat government appealed to the Supreme Court.
Minister for Environment and Forest Mr Jairam Ramesh on his maiden visit to Bhopal on September 2009 showed how insensitive can an educated Minister be. He took the waste lying in the factory in his had and claimed in front of the media that there is no contamination.. Mr. Ramesh during a one-day visit to Bhopal had visited the Union Carbide factory premises. “I am holding it in my hands and I am still alive!” he had said about the waste material still lying in the factory. Also said that 25 years had passed since the tragedy and it was “time to move on”.Later he apologized by calling me also .. Although on a different issue. Holding the snake and getting photographed..
On the same day S R Mohanty principal secretary of the Madhya Pradesh government said “This will dispel the myth that there are toxins left at the site,”. The city was abuzz with rumours that the site spread over some 35 hectares is prime real estate—the factory is in the city. The city wants the land.
The media was a silent witness to this mockery. But the activists concerned, reacted and finally he had to call up and apologies.
Victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy even urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Bhopal and “lead the nation in paying homage to the gas victims” on the 25th anniversary of the biggest industrial disaster in the world. The letter was sent by Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan and Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti to the Prime Minister . The letter said if Mrs. Gandhi’s death anniversary programmes could go on for such a long duration, why couldn’t the Prime Minister spare some time for the victims of the tragedy. The official toll of dead and injured gas victims as determined by the office of the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal, through the process of adjudication is 574,367
In Oct 2009 an Analysis of chemical contaminants in groundwater and assessment of the qualitative and quantitative drinking water supply was conducted in fifteen communities surrounding the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant site in Bhopal has revealed that the drinking water supply in the majority of these communities is insufficient or, in many cases, is contaminated with toxic chemicals
My state Governmet Minsiter was no less behind. On November 10, Babulal Gaur, the state Minister for Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Relief and Rehabilitation, announced a plan to open the factory gates for sightseeing and disaster tourism. “This is to help people get rid of the misconception that chemical waste inside is still harmful or that the chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities,” he explained.
Gaur substantiated a letter from the Defense Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) Gwalior, which says it found nothing alarming in samples it tested for toxicity in its laboratory. On the contrary, all samples—excavated waste, lime sludge, naphthol tar, reactor residue, semi-processed pesticide and Seven tar—have low mammalian toxicity, according to experiments done on animals. DRDE director R Vijayara Rghavan explains: “A 70 kg man will not die if he takes 200 gm of the waste orally or eats 100 gm of sevenr tars. In fact, the toxicity is less than that of table salt.” So the director concludes that the site can be opened to the public. Sarangi’s response: “We are now calling all government officials for a scrumptious lunch of the waste.”
The apex court on November 8 2009 directed that chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and officials of the Union Ministry of Commerce should jointly decide on the modalities for disposing the waste.
To mark the 25th anniversary of gas tragedy on Dec 1 2009 everybody was out. Govt, NGO, Businessman and the media.Dr Suniat Narayan of New Delhi-based research and advocacy organization, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released report of the Pollution Monitoring Lab of tested water and soil samples from in and around the Union Carbide factory which disclosed high concentrations of pesticides and heavy metals inside the factory as well as in the groundwater outside. The waste stored within the premises had Carbaryl content of 9,856 parts per million (ppm) and mercury content of 1,065 ppm. The soil sample near the Sevidol plant had 2,782 ppm of Lindane; soil from solar evaporation pond had chromium content of 1,065 ppm, while that from the Sevin plant had mercury concentration of 8,188 ppm. It must be noted that there is no standard for these pesticides. Surface water samples had a pesticide concentration of 0.2805 ppm – which is 561 times more than the Indian standard- She Informed.
THE Madhya Pradesh High Court on December 16 2009 issued fresh directions to dispose the toxic waste lying at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. The waste is to be incinerated at the waste treatment site in Ankleshwar industrial area of Gujarat. The court directed the Gujarat government to dispose the hazardous waste by January 31, 2009.
I the taxpayer along with you have been a witness to the 2 decade.. Environmental liability is an established principle. We want the MP government to take our responsibility if they are bothered about us. Two governments have ruled us in the last 2 decade, of different ideologies.
Will somebody tell me what the philosophy is for the citizens? On December 3, 1984, toxic poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL's) pesticide plant in Bhopal. The gas leak triggered a disaster that is now widely growing.
What is being done regarding toxic waste at Union Carbide, Bhopal ? The developments in the Bhopal compensation story have led us to question whether the executive and the judiciary are indeed keen to follow, as they seemingly claim, the absolute liability principle in letter and spirit.
This fact sheet contains what is being done regarding toxic waste at Union Carbide, Bhopal.
The ball and toxic waste was in the court of the Indian judiciary and government.
After the Supreme Court verdict what will the 2 government of Madhay aPradesh and Gujrat of same ideology decide?
Should Indian taxpayers bear the cost, especially when 25 years on, thousands of tones of hazardous waste is scattered around the Union Carbide factory.
Who will bury the Gas Tragedy? The state government is still grappling.. The world's worst man-made disaster - the Bhopal gas tragedy - occurred on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, and the Madhya Pradesh High Court had set a Jan 31, 2009 as a deadline. In its interim order, a division bench comprising Chief Justice A K Patnaik and Justice Ajit Singh of the MP High Court warned that obstruction to disposal of the waste by any individual or institution will be treated as a contempt of court,
On Dec 18, the Madhya Pradesh High Court, responding to a public interest petition, ordered that 40 tonnes of the waste be transported to the state's Dhar district and dumped in landfills there. The remaining 350 tones was to be incinerated in Gujarat's Ankleshwar town.
Even though after 25 years hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy plagued by innumerable diseases continue to suffer. The incessant governments the Central and Madhya Pradesh Governments have been asserting that the waste is no more toxic. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been extending support and sympathy to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. He salutes the civil society groups who have persisted in pursuing justice and compensation to those who suffered. Is that enough?
The great Bhopal whitewash carries on with the lingering of the tragedy.
The Supreme Court rejected the rule of strict liability, and in its place applied its new doctrine of “absolute liability”.