Bhopal 20 Years Later


The Independent

The failure of the Indian government and an American corporation to tackle the after-effects of one of the worst industrial accidents in history has left a legacy of continuing pollution and inadequate medical care for survivors, according to a report released today.

Days before the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in India a study has shown that survivors are still desperately in need of medical treatment and have not been properly compensated.

On the night of 2 December 1984, poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal. Thousands were killed immediately. Thousands more were to die from the effects of that night in the months and years that followed.

Now, Amnesty International has claimed that neither the Indian government nor Union Carbide have done enough to provide proper redress for the victims or to clean up the site.

"The disaster shocked the world and raised fundamental questions about corporate and government responsibility for industrial accidents that devastate human life and local environments," the report reads.

"Yet 20 years on, the survivors still await just compensation, adequate medical assistance and treatment, and comprehensive economic and social rehabilitation. The plant site has still not been cleaned up so toxic wastes still pollute the environment and contaminate water that surrounding communities rely on. And, astonishingly, no one has been held to account for the leak and its appalling consequences."

Survivors are marking the 20th anniversary this week by demanding the site is cleaned up and victims given proper compensation. Amnesty found the site of the factory is still severely contaminated, and is poisoning ground water supplies. The report details the case of Hasina Bee, a survivor of the disaster who still lives near the factory site, has been drinking the water from the hand-pump near her house for 18 years.

"When you look at the water, you can see a thin layer of oil on it," she said. "All the pots in my house have become discoloured…green-yellow. We have to travel at least two kilometres to get clean water…but my health is so bad that it prevents me from carrying the water I need from there."

The report confirms survivors’ claims that far more died in the immediate aftermath of the gas leak than the figure of 2,000 claimed by the Madhya Pradesh state government. Amnesty’s found that 7,000 died in the immediate aftermath, and 15,000 more have died of related diseases since 1984. It reveals that 100,000 people still suffer from chronic or debilitating illnesses. "The company decided to store quantities of the ‘ultra-hazardous’ MIC in Bhopal in bulk, and did not equip the plant with a corresponding safety capacity," the report says.

"UCC transferred technology that was not proven and entailed operational risks. It did not apply the same standards of safety in design or operations to Bhopal as it had in place in the USA. Unlike in the USA, the company failed to set up any comprehensive emergency plan or system in Bhopal to warn local communities about leaks."

Union Carbide has since been taken over by Dow Chemicals. The Amnesty report says: "Both companies used the new ownership structure in an attempt to avoid further responsibility for the Bhopal disaster".

The report says: "Efforts by survivors’ organisations to use the US and Indian court systems to see justice done and gain adequate redress have so far been unsuccessful.

The report is severely critical of the Indian government for "its failure to assess adequately the risk from the Bhopal plant", and for agreeing to a "derisory" settlement with Union Carbide in 1989 without consulting survivors, and for agreeing that this settlement ended Union Carbide’s liability.

In 1989, the Indian government abruptly agreed to end legal proceedings for a settlement of only $470m (£240m) from Union Carbide – a figure that was widely criticised.

But Amnesty found that: "Even this inadequate sum has not been distributed in full to the victims … about 16,000 claims are outstanding, and most of the successful applicants have received minimal amounts of compensation. At the time of writing in September 2004, around $330m of the $470m remained held by the Reserve Bank of India."

JUSTIN HUGGLER writes for the Independent.

October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria