Indian Catholic News

Bhopal tragedy still poisoning lives 33 years later

Backed by the church, survivors want greater final compensation after more victims come forward as the years progress.

Bhopal survivors burn an effigy of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhas and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a protest on the 33rd anniversary of the tragedy in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh. (Photo by IANS)

Survivors of India's Bhopal gas tragedy continue to fight for final compensation settlements 33 years after the world's worst industrial disaster.

At that time 40 tons of highly poisonous methyl isocyanate escaped from a Union Carbide factory killing some 4,000 people and injuring hundreds of thousands more.

A candle-lit march was held in Bhopal, capital of central Madhya Pradesh state, to commemorate the overnight horror of Dec. 2-3, 1984.

Marchers also burnt effigies of political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as effigies symbolizing the current owners of the now defunct plant, Union Carbide and Dow Chemical Company.

Dow was not an owner of the chemical production operation at the time of the disaster.

To mark the anniversary, a public meeting was also held in Bhopal on Dec. 2.

"We want a full and final settlement for the survivors through a judgment pending in the Supreme Court," said survivor representative Abdul Jabbar Khan.

He complained that neither the state government nor the national government had approached the court about ending a seven-year delay in resolving the matter.

The tragedy, according to official records, claimed 3,787 lives and exposed more than 500,000 people to the poisonous gas, leaving a great many permanently disabled.

However, some non-governmental organizations claim that more than 25,000 people died within a year of being exposed to the gas.

Khan said thousands of victims had died over ensuing years for want of medical care.

Union Carbide and the Indian government reached an agreement in 1989 for the payment of US$470 million in compensation covering 3,000 people who died and 120,000 who were injured.

However, the government was eventually forced to distribute the compensation to the families of 15,274 who died and to 574,000 people who were injured.

Khan said this resulted in much lower compensation payments to individuals and families than was originally envisaged.

He and other activists approached the Supreme Court in 2004 seeking futher compensation as the number of deaths was more than five times the initial count.

They also pressured the government into filing a "curative" petition in the Supreme Court in 2010 seeking higher compensation.

The court clubbed together all the compensation appeals, but a verdict is still pending.

Catholic Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal also noted the "inordinate delay" in delivering justice.

He said most people who came into direct contact with the poisonous gas died without getting any substantial government help.

Now second and third generations were still suffering without decent compensation, he added.

Studies have shown that water, air and soil around the chemical plant were contaminated.

Such research indicated that many women suffered miscarriages and some children born to survivors suffered congenital malformations.

There has also been evidence of infertility, cancers, mental disorders and poor eyesight as well as other health problems.

Archbishop Cornelio, who on Dec. 2 organized a special prayer program for victims at his house, said the national government should take immediate steps to fast track the compensation case in the Supreme Court.

Source: UCAN

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