news Friday, June 05, 2015 - 05:30
As India celebrates World Environment Day with the Prime Minister planting a tree, it appears that the government has forgotten the victims of one of the biggest industrial disasters, the Bhopal Gas leak that has claimed hundreds of lives. Today, the people living in the vicinity of the now abandoned Union Carbide factory stood together to form a question mark to ask the government what it plans to do with the hazardous waste that lies buried. On December 2, 1984, when the city was asleep, for some time, the people of Bhopal breathed in a poisonous gas that leaked from the Union Carbide factory. Water had accidentally entered one of the tanks containing 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC). As a result of the reaction between the chemical and water, the gas leaked within an hour. On being exposed to the gas, more than two lakh people suffered from the immediate effects. The death toll however, depends on who you ask. Estimates range from 6000 people to more than 15,000 people, if one includes the long-term effects of the gas. The figures are highly contested. In an essay for the book Breaking the Big Story, Bhopal-based journalist Rajkumar Keswani had written about how the plant allegedly dismantled safety measures over a period of time in a bid to save money. Despite his news reports, which drew attention to the dismal safety measures, nobody paid any attention, Keswani wrote. Union Carbide was acquired by Dow Chemicals in 2001. According to a press release by the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA), the demonstrators stood on the ground below which the poisonous waste lies, signifying the many “unanswered questions about the ongoing contamination in an area greater than 20 square kilometres”. In 1996, several thousand tonnes of hazardous waste was buried under the mound by the pesticide factory management. This waste is known to contain chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects and also damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and brain, said the release, issued by five organizations. Nawab Khan, the President of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha said, “Hundreds of children are being born with horrific birth defects because their parents drank contaminated ground water for upwards of 20 years. Unless the hazardous waste is excavated and disposed off safely, the toxic contamination will continue to maim generations to come.” According to these organisations, the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research had reported in October 2012 that the ground water in 22 communities with 10,000 families is contaminated and this will continue to spread unless the buried waste is removed. Satinath Sarangi of the BGIA drew attention to an 11-year-old petition for a clean-up of the area by Dow Chemicals pending before the Madhya Pradesh High Court. “It is shocking that the judges continue to drag their feet on an issue that concerns the destruction of lives and future of hundreds of unborn children,” he said. Warren Anderson is dead and gone, but the Indian government has failed to address this grave issue. Dow Chemicals still hasn’t accepted full responsibility of the gas leak. But it is the victims that still suffer and 31 years after the incident they still ask for justice.

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