Twenty-five years after the world’s worst industrial disaster occurred at midnight on December 3, 1984, the only fact that seems worthy of being reported is that there is nothing about the disaster that is hidden anymore. Nothing that has not been written about; nothing more required to point fingers.
And yet, as the nation mourns the first anniversary of 26/11 through war-like visuals on TV, questions about Bhopal linger. While the perpetrators of 26/11 are being tried in court, justice has not been delivered to the victims of chemical poisoning here. Even after a quarter century of protests, of misery, of lives lived in the shadow of death.
The media finds catharsis for the trauma of 26/11 in its footage of the restored Taj Mahal hotel. But there is nothing redemptive for TV about slums full of poor survivors living on contaminated water demanding their right to justice, which are the only images 3/12 has to offer.
Victims of the Bhopal disaster note that while the Indian government submitted several dossiers of evidence to Pakistan over 26/11, it has failed to get one man, a declared fugitive, extradited from the U.S. even after every piece of evidence against him and the corporation he headed, Union Carbide, is public knowledge.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal, while issuing a second non-bailable warrant for the arrest of Warren Anderson earlier this year, held that the “wilful non-execution” of this warrant was a “punishable offence under sections 217 and 221 of IPC” on the part of the Union government and “public servants” concerned.
It also held that the “public servants” responsible for the execution were “Cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon.”
The industry-sponsored trivialisation of the Bhopal issue, including the Dursban bribery scandal, is not news anymore. There is enough on-the-record information about the captains of India Inc pitching in for Dow Chemical, which now owns Carbide, asking the government to free the U.S. conglomerate of the responsibility of cleaning up the Union Carbide factory premises.
Documents obtained by Bhopal activists through RTI reveal Ratan Tata's personal letters to Manmohan Singh, Home Minister (then Finance Minister) P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia in 2006, urging them to let Indian industry clean up the Bhopal site as it was “critical for Dow to have the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers withdraw their application for a financial deposit by Dow against the remediation cost.”
Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris was more forthright. In a letter to Ronen Sen, Indian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, he wrote:“Certainly, a withdrawal of application would be a positive demonstration that the GOI means what it says about Dow's lack of responsibility in the matter.” In return he offers, “economic growth in India, including key foreign investments that will promote job creation…”
“When we met the Prime Minister in 2008 and brought up the issue, he raised his hands and said he didn't want to hear a word about Dow, saying tragedies happen and this country needs to move on,” says Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
But for those who still live with the contamination all around them, moving on is something they find impossible to do.