The verdict in the Bhopal gas disaster case has opened a Pandora's box. It is evident that successive governments have been conspicuously indifferent to the plight of the victims. From allowing Warren Anderson to fly out of India to favouring Dow Chemicals, they have let people down. Though in the context of globalisation, a developing country like India is bound to promote, encourage and ensure a healthy climate for foreign investment, it should not be done at the cost of people's well-being.
The verdict has reopened my old wounds. I was posted in the Central Audit & Inspection Department of the Union Bank of India, Bombay. I was deputed to Bhopal for audit on December 1, 1984. I went to the city with my wife and one-year-old daughter. We stayed at a hotel at Hamidia Road near the railway station, barely one km from the Union Carbide factory. Around midnight on December 2-3, we woke up coughing and gasping for breath. I rushed out of the hotel and was greeted by a bizarre sight. The road was packed with people running, some of them carrying children in their arms and others supporting the old. Many lay on the footpath among the dead. I rushed back to the hotel and left Bhopal.
It was only on day three that I started showing symptoms of exposure to methyl isocyanate gas. This ranged from respiratory problems to pain and insomnia. My eyesight never returned to normal.
My second and more arduous journey started. My bank did not even acknowledge that I suffered from MIC gas poisoning while on duty. I applied for a transfer to Bhopal for medical treatment. But by this time, a cover-up operation had started and the word ‘MIC gas' was taboo in government circles. I went to Bhopal on my own. I was denied even special leave.
I filed a writ petition at the Bombay High Court in 1991. The case dragged on for 12 years and I was finally pressured to arrive at a settlement and withdraw the case. The bank agreed to release my salary for the leave period.
The media hype we are witnessing in the aftermath of the Bhopal verdict is another proof of their frivolity. A watchful media would not have missed what was coming. Another fact that emerges from the whole episode is the utter impunity with which our government machinery functions.
This refers to the media reports on how Mr. Anderson was allowed to escape after the gas disaster. But everyone who has been quoted claims he received oral instructions from someone at the top. Thus there is no saying where the buck stops. It should be ensured that all important instructions from the top to lower-rung officials are put down on paper. We also need to ask ourselves why it takes generations to deliver court verdicts.
Vijay S. Raghavan,
As expected, the blame-game and the process of extracting political mileage from the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict have begun. The demand from some quarters that an inquiry be ordered into who facilitated Mr. Anderson's escape is amusing. Will the inquiry committee submit its report soon? Will the parties concerned accept the report? Will the persons held responsible be punished?
It has taken 26 long years for our politicians to ask: “Who let Warren Anderson off the hook?” Even now, they are using the issue only to score political points. Let us pay attention to the civil nuclear liability bill, which needs to be seriously reconsidered as in its present form it is loaded in favour of foreign suppliers.
The Bhopal gas disaster was a huge tragedy that brought citizens from all strata together to fight for justice. The revelation that it was the government that offered Mr. Anderson a safe exit is shocking. That we are producing bureaucrats to do the politicians' bidding is an even greater tragedy.
D. Benedict Thyagarajan,
The Bhopal verdict raises a few questions on safety arising out of the installation of chemical industries without proper scrutiny by government agencies, and the permission granted in the name of industrial development.
Hyderabad can become another Bhopal as many highly polluted chemical industries function in the city without minimum standards of safety.