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Justice evades Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims
New Delhi: It has been 21 long years since the deadly leak in Union Carbide's Bhopal pesticide plant. The victims are still awaiting fair compensation.
ON 3 DECEMBER 1984, around 1am a tragedy struck Bhopal, one of the densely populated cities in Madhya Pradesh, when a tank containing poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from the tall stacks of the Union Carbide pesticide plant. 

According to the reports of the Government of Madhya Pradesh, at least around 3000 people died immediately. Since then, more than 20,000 deaths have been attributed to the tragedy. In addition to this, about 7000 animals were injured and the total ecological balance was disturbed. The leak left thousands and thousands of residents physically impaired to varying degrees. People were sleeping while this tragedy stroke. They began coughing up froth traced with blood. They were feeling as if their eyes, noses and mouths were burning due the poisonous gas. They were all running in panic and in the process many were trampled. Others fell dead in suffocation.

Five years after the tragedy, a series of studies were made as to the conditions of the survivors. The reports showed that they were still suffering from many ailments like partial or complete blindness, gastrointestinal disorders, impaired immune systems, posttraumatic stress disorders, and menstrual problems in case of women. There was also a rise in number of stillbirths, genetically defective newborn babies. The tragedy is known as ‘Hiroshima of the chemical industry’ and is one of the worst industrial disasters recorded in history.

Even after 21 years the residents there have to face the brunt of the gas leakage. The next two generations could not escape the harmful effects of the leak. After the leakage, the factory was closed and abandoned by the company. Therefore chemicals were lying in open air and the structures of the factory were left to rot. Over the years rains have helped the chemicals seep into the soil and underground acquifers. This has contaminated the drinking water of the area. This has affected the communities living there, many of whom have developed cancers and birth related defects. People living there still complain of aches, pains, rashes, lack of appetite and dizziness. Lead, mercury and organochlorines have been detected in mother and these have got transmitted to their babies, while breast-feeding.

According to the data, provided by the Government of Madhya Pradesh, the total immediate relief provided in December 1984 amounted to more than Rs 36 crore. This amount was used for various purposes like economic relief, giving financial assistance to the affected families with monthly income less than Rs 500, free food and milk, ex-gratia payments for the death of 2246 animals and also compensation to the family members of the deceased persons. The government also took some rehabilitation plans.

But, 21 years after the tragedy took place every thing is still not right for the victims. The rehabilitation that took place was never enough. According to the reports of Amnesty International, around 1,00,000 are still suffering from chronic diseases. The survivors are still awaiting their compensation, proper medical treatment and a total rehabilitation, both social and economic. The plant site is still not cleaned up of its toxic wastes properly. The two transnational companies, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and Dow Chemicals, which took over UCC in 2001, were reluctant to take the responsibility of the tragedy and its dire consequences on the people and the environment. Even the efforts taken by the government is not satisfactory. In 2004, the Indian government woke up to the issue after the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York agreed to consider the case of taking some concrete measures to clean up the site. This decision came in the wake of a civil suit for environmental damages, which was filed by survivors from Bhopal. But the court said that it could only go about the whole thing only if Indian government agreed to cooperate. The Indian government, in a letter to the US district Court agreed to the proposal. Then after so many years, in June 2005, The Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board started to remove the toxic wastes from the site. 

But still, the things are not in a right order. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims have still not got their dues. No one should forget that a justice delayed is justice denied.

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