Bhopal Gas Tragedy: After 30 years, Who’s To Blame?

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: After 30 years, Who’s To Blame?

The worst industrial disaster India has ever seen, some even go to the extent of comparing it to the three mile island, but for today, we shall stick to what happened about 30 years ago claiming lives of hundreds in silence and creating a wound that remains a scar to even this day. The toll was over 500,000 people who were exposed to the deadly Methyl Isocyanate gas with a confirmed death of 3,787 with the cause related to the gas release. The estimate gets as high as 8,000 people who died over the two weeks and about 8000 more with time and undoubtedly it was the worst disaster the Indian industry has ever seen.

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Bhopal Gas Tragedy- 30 Years Later, Who To Blame

The Issue

The gas tragedy is a long standing issue that stands tall even today and the issue is the fixation of responsibility. The company which owned the major stakes later sold it off to another which sold it off to another and finally it is the DOW chemicals that owns the major stake and the question is about the responsibility of the disaster that happened 30 years ago and the effects are still seen to the next generation as well. Although it sounds as simple as a gas leak from one of the chambers, the effect has been catastrophic with the number of death tolls and the issue transcending to the further generations.

The Early Signs

An issue was caused by the phosgene gas released by the company in 1976 which later resulted in a death and the Indian authorities had warned the company in 1979 but unfortunately nothing much was done about it. The issue resurfaced in 1982 when the phosgene gas release exposed to 24 workers resulted in them being hospitalized and surprisingly none of the workers were advised to wear preventive masks. And there were a couple more such complaints that were made internally during this year and looks like all of them fell on deaf years only to result in a deadly tragedy two years later.

Legal Action

It was quite a neat little thing to take advantage of a legal construct. As per the rules back then, the maximum allocated amount that could be given as a compensation was $2000 which according to many critics is way less than the amount of damage that has been created and also been given to only a few people. The effects have been long standing and people are suffering to this day, the effects of this tragedy. The government of India had claimed $3.3 billion as a compensation for the tragedy but the company reached an out of court settlement at $470 million which is just about 15% of what the government claimed.

Anderson, the owner of the company when the issue happened was charged with manslaughter in the Indian court. However he being the resident of US, he could not be extradited to India. In other words, he had a safe haven to rely on and the victims were grossly under compensated for the  tragedy and 30 years later, the issue is still afresh and people still relate to it with a lot of hurt for it was the greatest industrial tragedy India has seen.

The Lessons? 
    • The lessons are far and plenty as this tragedy follows us as a shadow and the outcome still afresh in the eyes. The questions are wide open for a foreign company coming and establishing a base here. The confusion is two fold – one is to ensure that sufficient safety constraints are considered and maintained. It has to be ensured that just because India is a country where people seem to find ways to complete things without relying on the books, it doesn’t mean that an issue as serious as this can be compromised.
    • Granted that the extradition and the outstation laws are a little unreachable, it still doesn’t mean that a culprit can scott free. There needs to be a way to bring them to justice – maybe by roping in the international court of law or by adding the extradition policy or a mutual agreement in the treaty of the company setting up a base here.
    • The issue is no smaller than the three mile island or any other issue in history just because it is Bhopal gas tragedy. It is equally serious of not more.
    • There needs to be a mechanism to mete justice to these people who are affected by the tragedy. If the company is unreachable, maybe it is time for the govt to step in or the local companies to contribute for the upliftment of the place as a part of their corporate social responsibility.
    • It is the fellow brethren who have suffered and who are still suffering. Maybe a corpus fund or an additional tax that can go to saving these people and offering them adequate opportunities for livelihood can help.

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