Bhopal gas tragedy: 6 times it made headlines after Union Carbide gas leak in 1984

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#1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, #1984 gas leak, #Abdul Jabbar, Bhopal gas tragedy , #Bhopal gas tragedy survivors, #Covid, #Rajkumar Keswani, #Union Carbide, #Warren Anderson, welfare of the survivors, capable of causing mass mayhem, vaccine trials of Covaxin, died of Covid

Bhopal gas tragedy victims and activists carry Warren Anderson’s effigy while participating in a protest demanding adequate compensation, punishment to culprits and to bring back former Union Carbide chief, near the US consulate in Calcutta. (Image credit: AP file photo)

On the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984, the leak of toxic methyl isocyanate gas from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide killed over 3,000 people and left 1.02 lakh others affected at that time. It has been 37 years since, but the Bhopal gas tragedy — termed as the world’s worst industrial disaster — continues to make headlines. Here are five times that the tragedy made news after 1984.

1. Victims and survivors claim compensation was inadequate

Survivors and the family of the dead are still waiting to be compensated fairly with an organisation working for them claiming that each victim has so far received less than one-fifth of the allotted sum. During every anniversary of this tragedy, the survivors and families of the day seek to highlight the same demands.

Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti co-convener ND Jayaprakash said the Supreme Court assisted settlement on February 14-15, 1989 worth Rs 705 crore was based on the assumption that only around 3,000 people died and 1,02,000 were affected.

“This compensation was a complete sham as each gas victim ended up being given less than one-fifth of the sum allotted even as per the terms of that unjust settlement,” he added.

When asked to explain, he said that the financial aid was USD 470 million in 1989. The dollars turned into more than Rs 3,000 crore in 2004, when the disbursements started.

“But the number of the victims swelled to 5.73 lakh and this amount was distributed among them. So, each victim got one-fifth of the compensation,” he added.

“The failure on the part of the Supreme Court to hear the long-pending curative petition against the unjust settlement of 1989, has had an adverse impact on the interests of the gas victims,” he said.

2. Chairman Warren Anderson died unpunished’

The then chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, Warren Anderson, was the main accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case. He, however, had never appeared at the Bhopal court for trial. The US citizen was declared an absconder. He died in the US in 2013.

As the news of his death spread, organisations working for the welfare of the survivors met in front of the defunct factory and alleged that Anderson died unpunished because of the protection by the US government and negligence of the Indian government in bringing him to justice.

3. Journalist who warned of irregularities before gas leak, dies of Covid; another wins Padma Shri

Rajkumar Keswani, an acclaimed journalist who had warned of irregularities that led to the gas leak tragedy in 1984, dies of post-Covid complications in May 2021 at 72. He is survived by his wife and son.

Warned by his friends who worked in the plant about the hazard of possible leakage of MIC (methyl iscocyanate) gas, Keswani wrote in a Bhopal weekly “Rapat” on 26 September 1982 “Bachaiye huzoor is shahar ko bachaiye” (Someone save this city). He repeated his warning in two other article. His report was picked up and reported in other mainstream media houses. Having studied the toxicity of MIC, Keswani’s concern emanated from the finding that MIC broke down into several gases, including phosgene—the gas used in Nazi gas chambers during the Second World War. MIC was “heavier than air” and was capable of causing mass mayhem, Keswani had pointed out.

Another journalist, named by some as Bhopal’s gritty crusader, Abdul Jabbar, was awarded the Padma Shri posthumously. A survivor of the gas tragedy himself, Jabbar fought a never-ending battle for the welfare of other survivors. His relentless struggle brought medical and economic rehabilitation to the scores of victims.

4. 1948 Bhopal gas tragedy survivors used for vaccine trials without consent

There were also reports of the survivors being used as guinea pigs for Covid vaccine trials of Covaxin. People in a Bhopal slum were allegedly offered Rs 750 in exchange for getting vaccinated. The slums housed mostly survivors of the gas leak and for them, it seemed like a good offer, but it later came to light that the people were vaccinated without being explained that they were participating in a clinical trial.

As a result, several of them experienced shirtlessness of breath and began to fall sick, opening doors to inquiry. According to a report in Frontline, 1,700 people had been recruited for trials in Bhopal, of which 700 were survivors of the gas leak with already-compromised health.

5. Gas tragedy survivors accounted for a majority of Covid deaths

With already compromised health and co-morbidities, by September 2021, the survivors, accounted for close to 40% of the toll in Madhya Pradesh. According to activists, of the 5.74 lakh survivors in Bhopal, 467 died of Covid. But, while the government claimed that the total Covid deaths in Bhopal was 974, activists claimed that the real number was 1,225.

6. No pension for 5,000 Bhopal gas tragedy widows for 18 months during the pandemic

At least 5,000 women widowed in the Bhopal gas tragedy have been waiting for their pension of Rs 1,000 for 18 months during the Covid pandemic.

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation department would give Rs 1,000 to the widows under the social rehabilitation scheme. The amount was earmarked on the recommendations of a ministerial committee at the Centre in 2010.

Between April 2016 and November 2017, however, the government stopped the pension without citing any reason. Later in December 2017, it was started again. It was revised to Rs 1,000 in 2019. This continued until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

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