December 8, 1984: “Forget her she will die in couple of days anyway…” A 17 year old volunteer asked to distribute apples to Bhopal Gas victims.
June 2010: Two years simple imprisonment; bail granted. Offence, 20th century’s worst industrial disaster that resulted in 15,000 human deaths and close to four lakh maimed for life. –Verdict issued by the lowest court against those found guilty under section 304 A of Indian Penal Code.
These are two faces of a tragedy. First one is shocking but pardonable. The teenager exposed to mass death became numb. He tried to save as many who had a fighting chance of survival and left those who in his opinion were lost causes.
However, the second instance is far more cruel and sinister as it happened after long deliberations, mulling facts and figures, studying eye witness accounts and medico legal opinions.
Compare the punishment with the one meted out to the widows or elderly ladies of Bhopal who were protesting against Union Minister for Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh in 2007. They are charged with rioting, a non bail able offence, and can face seven year imprisonment.
There is a section of press, politicians and general public that thinks compensation offered till now is more than enough and people of Bhopal have been raising the bogey to get more money. These people should visit local hospital where a 30 year old lady had come with her 11 year old son. She was five when the tragedy struck. She and her family survived and for most part of her life she felt thankful that god saved her. Since the birth of her kid she isn’t sure whether surviving the tragedy was a boon. The gas left its impact on her and her child is suffering due to it. At 11 he weighs nine kgs. His legs are no thicker than couple of fingers in an average man’s hands.
Reports by many authoritative agencies have suggested and government has finally accepted that the death toll was deliberately down played. For a long time it was maintained only 3000 people perished inBhopal tragedy. Even while deciding the severity of physical damage the parameters invoked were arbitrary and 92 per cent of the victims were dismissed by putting them into minor category without any specific explanation. In the melee what everyone forgot was the toll of cattle and other animals. Their numbers were much higher and they left scores of families pauper overnight. They lost their cattle wealth and their earnings. Those who were living with dignity till December 2, 1984 were reduced to live on alms or beg for money on Dec 10.
Anyone who has worked in the government knows no matter how inefficient bureaucracy looks it knows exactly what is happening. Finding out the number of dead and maimed would have been a week’s work at best. The city by the grace of god was completely isolated as no bus or train (Except for Kushi Nagar express) came or passed through the city when the leakage happened. It had voter rolls, census report, local police station records and hospital records to arrive at exact figures of deaths and affected individuals.
Much is being made of Warren Anderson’s release and his escape. Few are mentioning that he paid all the money that the government of India demanded in early 1985. Dollar 470 millions are parked in Indian coffers since then and our own government is not ready to release it. Just two years ago UPA-1 government had opposed any increase in the compensation amount. If you ever visit Bhopal go to the “Gas rehabilitation office” that is run with the help of compensation money that India received in 1985. It has a staff of 1000 personnel. The victims, waiting for compensation, visit here regularly pleading their case with officers who earn salaries with interest earned from the same compensation money.
The regional government undertook operation ‘Faith’ to clear remaining gas from the plant. The project was funded by the money received from the Carbide factory. However, the operation never cleared gas from the plant except from its chimney. Most of the left over gas is still present within the compound and contaminating the water close to it.
Today USA is demanding $ 20 billion as compensation from British Petroleum for the gulf oil spill. The spill has claimed 20 lives till now but the money demanded is based on the perceived loss of employment and livelihood opportunities and damage done to the nature. In contrast the cost of physical debilitation of three generations and disruption of family units in Bhopal was decided at mere Rs. 25,000 each. Even that did not reach most of them as they were never classified as victims.
The industrial disaster has been termed a tragedy or an accident, but in reality it was pre-meditated murder where the company knew that its plant was having serious security issues, the reports were being tabled regularly to the top brass but in their quest to maximise profit and cut costs they ignored it. They were profit oriented businessmen who did what they were good at – profiteering. But during and after the tragedy those whom we had chosen as our representatives failed miserably by refusing to offer even basic respect to the dead and suffering.