A survivor story in spite of being expected to have a happy ending may sometimes leave a lingering sadness. Our story today is one such. Dr Jayshree. MS, a GDMO in DHS, Delhi recounts hers and her family’s tale of horror that fateful night- on the intervening night of 2nd 3rd December. 1984, Bhopal. The night of that tragedy – the night of the disaster of Bhopal Gas tragedy.
Dr Jayshree who was pursuing her post graduate studies away from home received news the next day that there here had been a major gas leak in the Union Carbide Factory. Back then there were no cell phones for instant contact. The telephone lines were not working. (Probably jammed) Though she was worried to death and wanted to be with her family at the earliest, there was nothing she could do as her Faculty too had advised her against visiting home until it was safe as there were no proper reports of the situation back in Bhopal. After three restless days she finally reached Bhopal. It resembled a ghost town. The city smelled of death and despair. The railway station was almost deserted. Coolies had many sad tales to tell- Of train load of people dying in their sleep: Of people, who were sleeping bliss fully unaware of the situation when it passed through and halted. There was one heroic story of a station master who on realizing the gravity of the situation valiantly attempted to signal all trains not to stop. He kept on at his post trying to contact stations to stop entering the city instead of fleeing and taking cover and in the process he lost his life. There were also unconfirmed stories of Para medics who were affected by the toxic gas while administering treatment as it was reported that they simply were at loss at the nature of treatment to be given and the antidote as there were no information about the gas that had leaked. Amidst these stories of horror she reached home but thankfully her family members were safe.
The Cold wintry night had saved her family and so were the other residents of the colony. They had slept with the windows tightly shut and were safely tucked in bed underneath thick blankets, when the toxic gas spread over the unsuspecting city. When the gas leaked it was reported that the alarms were not sounded and the workers fled the site immediately without activating the (almost non existent) emergency management systems… By the time the authorities were informed precious moments were wasted. It was a small consolation that the gas was denser and by early morning it had disappeared considerably.
The leak was controlled and the gas had settled down literally and thankfully dispersed or else the casualties would have been higher. The next morning there was death everywhere near the factory. Add to it some panic spreading rumors which sent the city in total chaos. Information network was not functioning properly. The city was simply not prepared for something of this magnitude even after having some close shaves earlier. After one week the city somewhat turned into normal but long term effects started showing up. There was food scarcity for one; secondly the symptoms of long term toxic effects of the gas were showing in the affected people. Relief was slow to come. Dr Jayshree‘s family were lucky in that no body suffered any damage. They had come out of it unscathed and safe and they were thankful to the almighty for it, but happy? … Can’t say… can’t be! At least not now, anymore!
- Bhopal gas tragedy occurred on the night of December 3 or more precisely on the intervening night of 2nd and 3rd December at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal.
- Around midnight there was there was a leak of methyl isocyanate(MIC) gas and other toxins from the plant, resulting in the exposure of over 500,000 people.
- Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Other government agencies estimate 15,000 deaths. Others estimate that 8,000 died within the first weeks and that another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.
- Another 100,000 to 200,000 people are estimated to have permanent injuries.
- Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation of USA, was allowed to escape India and is still an absconder and did not not subject himself to trial.
- Greenpeace asserts that as the Union Carbide CEO, Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards and that they were not fixed in Bhopal but were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the US.
- 26 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster that had left over many thousands of people dead, a local court had convicted all the seven persons, including former Union Carbide Chairman Keshub Mahindra, in the case and awarded them a maximum of two years imprisonment while the erstwhile CEO lives a free man in US.
Value of human life:
- After the accident, no one under the age of 18 was registered. The number of children exposed to the gases was at least 200,000.
- Immediate relief was decided two days after the tragedy.
- Relief measures commenced in 1985 when food was distributed for a short period and ration cards were distributed.
- Widow pension of the rate of Rs 200/per month (later Rs 750) was provided.
- One-time ex-gratia payment of Rs 1,500 to families with monthly income Rs 500 or less was decided.
- Each claimant was to be categorised by a doctor. In court, the claimants were expected to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that death or injury in each case was attributable to exposure. In 1992, 44 percent of the claimants still had to be medically examined.
- From 1990 interim relief of Rs 200 was paid to everyone in the family who was born before the disaster.
- The final compensation (including interim relief) for personal injury was for the majority Rs 25,000 (US$ 830). For death claim, the average sum paid out was Rs 62,000.
- Effects of interim relief were more children sent to school, more money spent on treatment, more money spent on food, improvement of housing conditions.
- The management of registration and distribution of relief showed many shortcomings.
- In 2007, 1,029,517 cases were registered and decided. Number of awarded cases were 574,304 and number of rejected cases 455,213. Total compensation awarded was Rs.1,546.47 crores.
- Because of the smallness of the sums paid and the denial of interest to the claimants, a sum as large as Rs 10 billion is expected to be left over after all claims have been settled.