Anniversary of the December 2-3, 1984
OVER 20,000 DEAD AND COUNTING
Over 120,000 STILL IN DESPERATE NEED OF MEDICAL ATTENTION
TENS OF 1000s OF CHILDREN WITH GROWTH PROBLEMS
50,000 IN NEED OF ECONOMIC REHABILITATION
1000s IN NEED OF SOCIAL SECURITY
5000 FAMILIES DRINKING POISONED WATER
STOP PRESS STOP PRESS STOP PRESS STOP PRESS STOP
ON DECEMBER 1, 2000, THE CHIEF MINISTER MR. DIGVIJAY SINGH ANNOUNCED AT A "MEET THE PRESS" MEETING THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF GAS RELIEF HAS OUTLIVED ITS UTILITY, SINCE THE "CITY'S RESIDENTS ARE NO LONGER SUFFERING FROM THE AFTER EFFECTS OF THE BHOPAL GAS DISASTER".
The current health situation in Bhopal
2. The current situation of medical care
3. Study of prescriptions issued by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust
4. Data from a severely affected community
5. Report of Indian Council of Medical Research yet to be published
6. Issues of concern in the medical care of Bhopal survivors
7. Good news from Bhopal: The Sambhavna Clinic
8. Legal action in the US courts
9. Criminal case against Union Carbide
10. Union Carbide's merger with Dow Chemicals
11. Union Carbide back in India in a new guise
12. Latest compensation figures
13. Denial of compensation
14. Balance of the compensation fund
!5. A murky business
16. Good news from Bhopal: Workers victorious against Union Carbide
17. Very poor show
18. No support to widows and orphans
19. CAG's damning indictment against the MP government
20. Good news from Bhopal: The struggle continues
December 2-3 1984
At about 10.30 pm during routine maintenance operations in the methyl isocyanate (MIC) plant of Union Carbide Corporation in Bhopal, a large quantity of water entered one of the storage tanks through leaking valves and corroded pipes triggering a runaway reaction in tank no. E610 containing 60 tonnes of MIC a lethal chemical with a TLV of 0.02ppm. The reaction produced enormous heat and pressure and 40 tonnes of a deadly cocktail of MIC, hydrogen cyanide, mono methylamine, carbon monoxide and possibly 20 other chemicals spewed forth in the form of dense clouds. Safety systems (that, in the first place, were grossly under-designed to take care of a runaway reaction) were either switched off, malfunctioning or under repair. A cold and gentle northerly wind carried the clouds over half a million sleeping people. The poison cloud moved like a wall 20 to 30 feet high hugging the ground. By one in the morning an entire city had been turned in to gas chamber.
The siren at the factory had been deliberately turned off so that people came to know of the leak from the factory only after the poison clouds had surrounded them. They woke up coughing, gasping for breath with their eyes burning like they were on fire. People ran, entire families, holding babies in their arms with little children running alongside. The force of the human torrent of a city trying to escape wrenched childrens' hands from their parents. People lost control of their bodies. Urine and faeces ran down their legs. Some began vomiting uncontrollably, were wracked with seizures and fell dead. The gases irritated peoples lungs into producing so much fluid that their lungs were filled with it, 'drowning them in their own body fluids.
Doctors at Bhopals hospitals, besieged by dying people, did not know how to treat them. They called Union Carbides medical officer who said that the gas was akin to tear gas. "All you need to do is wash with water" he said. Meanwhile, the hospital mortuary was overflowing. Graveyards and cremation grounds were unable to cope with the flow and for the next three nights and days mass burials and cremations went on non-stop in different parts of the city. The number of casualties in the immediate aftermath will possibly never be known with certainty but the most conservative estimates by independent agencies suggest that over 8000 men, women and children were killed within the first three days. The Indian Council of Medical Research, a government agency, concluded that over 5,20,000 exposed persons had poisons circulating in their bloodstream that caused damage to almost all the systems in the body.
1. The current health situation in Bhopal
While people continue to die of exposure-related diseases, the official agency for monitoring deaths remains closed and has been since 1992. In addition to the host of physical and mental illnesses that have gripped people and never left them, there are new diseases that are manifesting after so many years. Yet official initiatives to monitor longterm health consequences are either terribly flawed or non-existent. The monitoring work by the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies (CRS), set up by the Madhya Pradesh Government has done little other than draw ridicule and contempt for its abysmal quality. Meanwhile, the number of people with cancers and tuberculosis is alarmingly high and rising. Young women who were exposed at infancy, have chaotic and painful menstrual cycles on attaining puberty. Many have three to four cycles in a month and there are those as old as 17 or 18 who have yet to have their periods. Young people between 15 to 18 years look like they are 10 or 11 because of exposure-induced growth problems documented by ICMR.
2. The current situation of
The best of treatments provide only temporary relief, if at all. Indiscriminate prescription of steroids, antibiotics and psychotropic drugs is potentially compounding damage caused by exposure. Government initiatives towards proper identification of victims have resulted in confusion, corruption and utter discrimination. As a result there are no credible official figures for the number of victims and the degree and extent of injuries. Similarly lacking are systems to document the health status and treatment given to hundreds of thousands of victims under longterm medical care.
It is paradoxical that while huge amounts of money have been spent by the medical care establishments [over Rs. 200 crores by the government and over Rs. 100 crores by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, basic medicines of reliable quality remain largely unavailable to patients. Hospitals and clinics run by these establishments have an impressive array of the most expensive equipment. Very few are, however, are being used. Most are malfunctioning or under repair and some have no trained personnel to run them. Facilities for simple gynaecological investigations such as Pap's smears or neurological problems are non-existent.
The inadequacies of the government health care system has led to a flourishing business for private medical practitioners. In the severely affected areas nearly 70% of the private doctors are not even professionally qualified, yet they form the mainstay of medical care in Bhopal. The Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust set up originally by Union Carbide is as much in the dark regarding treatment. Many of the drugs being used by the Trusts community clinics are causing more harm than good to the chronic patients.
3. Study of prescriptions issued by the
Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust
4. Data from a severely affected community
The five most common symptoms reported by victims of the disaster are : Breathlessness, burning sensation in the eyes and lacrimation, loss of ability to work, cough and anxiety. The five most common symptoms reported by non-affected residents are : headache, abdominal pain, dizziness, cough and lower back ache. 44 deaths in gas affected families have been reported in this community since January 1993.
Among the 1856 adults [age greater than 16 years] with history of gas exposure 1676 [90%] were found to be under medical care at the time of the survey. Among the 1423 persons without history of exposure 455 [32%] were found to be under medical care at the time of the survey.
5. Report of Indian Council of Medical Research
yet to be published
To carry out its work the ICMR set up the Bhopal Gas Disaster Research Centre [BGDRC] in Bhopal. The ICMR wound up 5 of its projects by 1986 and an additional 14 were wound up by 1992. In 1994 the ICMR suddenly and without any explanation, decided to abandon all medical research in Bhopal. At the time of its winding up, there were 18 project proposals before the BGDRC pending approval, several of these had been reviewed by the review committee.
The never explained ban on publication of medical research on Bhopal imposed by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, Government of India, was finally lifted in 1996. However, to date there has been no report on the findings of ICMR's decade-long research.
Over 80,000 exposed persons and over 20,000 unexposed persons who were involved in the studies, many of whom gave samples of their blood, sputum, urine, semen etc. remain to be informed about the findings of ICMR research.
6. Issues of concern in the
medical care of Bhopal survivors
B. Urgent research needs that remain unfulfilled :
C. Neglected health care imperatives :
7. Good news from Bhopal :
The Sambhavna Clinic
Research carried out on objective assessment of Yoga therapy in the treatment of exposure-related chronic respiratory disorders at Sambhavna has yielded encouraging results. Half the persons in the study, which received appreciation at the XVI World congress of Asthma at Buenos Aires in October 1999, were able to discontinue medication they have been dependent for upon for over 10 years. Copies of the research paper were sent by the two researchers to senior officials of the Department of Gas Relief and Rehabilitation as well as the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, in March 2000. While a reminder one month later elicited a discouraging response from the government, the BMHT is yet to respond.
Community health workers of Sambhavna have successfully organised survivors' communities to take initiative in the improvement of community health. 64 Ayurvedic medicines are prepared at the clinic itself from locally collected or purchased herbs.
action in the US courts
On August 28, 2000 Judge Mr. John F. Keenan of the Federal Court of the Southern District of New York dismissed the suit mainly on the grounds that the Bhopal Act [Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985] prevented individuals or organizations outside the Government of India from bringing an action against Union Carbide or its official. Quite clearly this interpretation of the Bhopal Act is incorrect as a matter of law based on the Indian Supreme Court's authoritative interpretation of the Act. Further it is contrary to international law as well as the public policy of the United States and India.
In view of the travesty of justice in the wrongful dismissal of the case an appeal was filed before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Survivors and solidarity organisations have sought the support of the Indian government in the US class action suit. They have demanded an Amicus curae brief from the Union of India that presents the facts relating to the Bhopal Act. As per the court's schedule the appellant's brief must be filed by December 20, 2000 and that of Union Carbide and Anderson by January 19, 2001. Oral argument on the appeal will be heard on March 5, 2001.
9. Criminal case against Union Carbide
As the proceedings in the Bhopal District Court began in the aftermath of the disaster, Union Carbide and its officials repeatedly chose to ignore the Court's summons. Finally Anderson was served summons through Interpol and on his repeated refusal to obey them, the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Bhopal proclaimed him an absconder. After the criminal immunity granted under the settlement was revoked by the October 1991 final judgement of the Supreme Court, a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against Anderson and the shares of Union Carbide in its Indian subsidiary were attached by the CJM, Bhopal. More than seven years have passed but the Indian government has yet to take steps towards seeking the extradition of the foreign accused. Since Union Carbide has de-registered UCE, Hong Kong in 1992, the CBI has expressed, its inability in Court to proceed against it.
On September 13, 1996, in response to an appeal moved by Keshub Mahindra and other accused officials of Union Carbide India Ltd. (UCIL), the Supreme Court passed an order diluting the charges of culpable homicide to death caused by negligence (Sec. 304 A of the IPC), thereby reducing the maximum sentence from 10 years to two years. Trials of the Indian accused are currently going on before the CJM, Bhopal but at an extremely slow pace of less than one hearing per month. This year's average is one hearing in two months. Among the major witnesses this year are Dr. S. Varadarajan, who headed the scientific investigation team, Mohanlal Verma, former Union Carbide worker and according to Carbide's propaganda, the disgruntled saboteur behind the tragedy, and T. R. Chouhan former Carbide Worker and author of Bhopal - The Inside Story. 76 witnesses of the prosecution have deposed so far. Union Carbide India Ltd. and other accused aim to present over 100 witnesses.
|10. Union Carbide's merger
with Dow Chemicals
In August 1999 the US-based multinational Dow Chemicals moved to buy Union Carbide Corporation for $9.3 billion thus creating the second largest chemical behemoth in the world. Dow Chemicals is guilty of producing Agent Orange, 19 million gallons of which were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of Vietnam which maimed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people and caused horrific birth defects. Dow Chemicals is currently the largest producer of PVC plastics, pesticides, and solvents and is the world's largest source of dioxin the most toxic chemical in the world earning the distinction of being 'Dioxin King'. The company is known to have deliberately withheld information that its silicone breast implants could cause fatal autoimmune disorders and respiratory damage. In early October 2000, 298 former inmates of Holmsburg prison in Philadelphia filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemicals and others for exposing them to infectious diseases, radiation, dioxin and psychotropic drugs - all without their informed consent - in the course of medical research from 1951 to 1974.
Ever since the disaster, Union Carbide has sought to change its identity in different ways and with the sole motivation of ridding itself of the stigma of Bhopal. Thus Union Carbide India Ltd. changed its name to Eveready Industries India Ltd., Union Carbide Eastern, Hong Kong a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporation de-registered itself in 1992 re-emerging as a new company, Union Carbide Asia. Now, through merging with Dow, Union Carbide is seeking to rid itself of its hated name. In the event of the merger the pending criminal liabilities of Union Carbide will shift to Dow Chemicals. Unfazed, Dow has set up offices in Bombay and announced on September 28, 2000, plans to invest US$1billion in India over the next three years to set up a one million tonne capacity naphtha cracker.
On May 11, 2000 members of the Campaign for Justice in Bhopal a US-based coalition of students and environmental health activists, participated in the annual shareholders meeting of Dow as proxy shareholders and demanded that in the event of a merger Dow accepts Union Carbide's pending liabilities. Dow's response articulated by Chairman Frank Popoff, 'It's not in my power to take responsibility for an event 15 years ago with a product we never developed at a location where we never operated.'
On May 3, 2000 a class action lawsuit was filed against Dow Chemical Corporation and its 17 officials including Chairman Frank P. Popoff by Martin F. Statfeld in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of Dow shareholders. The complaint alleges that Dow violated federal securities laws by failing to disclose in its filing before the Securities Exchange Commission that Union Carbide is exposed to potential liabilities on account of the Bhopal disaster. The law suit alleges that Dow management's ignoring Union Carbide's pending criminal and environmental liabilities during merger negotiations will potentially cause financial harm to Dow shareholders. This class action suit by Dow shareholders is aptly named 'In re Dow Chemical Securities-Bhopal Litigation'.
The Campaign for Justice in Bhopal has also registered complaints against the merger between the two major players in the 'global military industry complex' before the Securities Exchange Commission and other regulatory bodies in the US and other countries.
Meanwhile the merger that was expected to close in the first quarter of 2000 remains to be completed to date, apparently owing to regulatory reviews by the Securities Exchange Commission and other authorities. In November 2000 Dow's newly elected President/CEO Michael D. Parker. in his first media briefing declined to offer a timetable for Dow's acquisition of Union Carbide but did not hesitate to sing paeans of praise: 'Clearly, we're enormously aware of Bhopal and the fact that the particular incident is associated with Union Carbide, [but Union Carbide has] done what it needs to do to pursue the correct environment, health and safety programmes.'
11. Union Carbide back in India in a new
The $4.7 billion company's Indian subsidiary, Praxair India Private, Ltd. has its office in Bangalore. If the Central Bureau of Investigation that is prosecuting the absconding Union Carbide Corporation in the Bhopal court plans to seek confiscation of Praxair India's assets, they are being tight-lipped about it.
No. of courts = 56
*Over 6000 deaths have been adjudged to be exposure-related with majority of the death claims being "converted" arbitrarily into injury claims.
Sums far less than standards set by the Indian Railways have been paid to the victims of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal. About Rs. 10,000 is routinely deducted from the compensation amounts against interim monetary relief paid by the government. The rest of the money does not pay for even five years of medical bills for people who are likely to be sick all their lives. No compensation has been paid for mental health injuries. In violation of the legal rights of the victims none of the claimants have been paid any interest on the compensation amount. Judges at the claim courts are ignorant of the medical consequences of toxic exposure and the administration of compensation is riddled with corruption so that the claimants inability to pay bribes often results in denial of compensation.
13. Denial of compensation
14. Balance of the
Union Carbide's Toxic Legacy
|!5. A murky business|
This year has seen some murky goings on regarding the 18 year old problem of contamination of soil and groundwater in the communities next to Union Carbide's factory in Bhopal. As early as 1982, two years prior to the disaster, tubewells had had to be abandoned. In April 1990, the BGIA highlighted the presence of at least seven toxic chemicals, two of them carcinogens, in the soil and groundwater through sample analysis at the Citizens Environmental Laboratory (CEL), Boston. After the report was presented at Union Carbide's annual shareholders meeting in the same year, the company retained Arthur D. Little [creator/propagator of the sabotage-by-disgruntled-worker fiction] to look into the matter. In the same year the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute [NEERI], an Indian government research agency published a report that said there was no significant contamination. A closer look at the study reveals that it was designed to miss potentially toxic organic chemicals and at least nine chemicals found in the samples were left unidentified. It did not take long for Arthur D. Little and NEERI to find each other and a study was hatched.
One year later the State Research Laboratory of the Public Health Engineering Department reported serious chemical contamination in samples taken from 11 tubewells in the area. This laboratory repeated its exercise in 1996 and reported similar results. Municipal authorities declared water from over 100 tubewells to be unfit for drinking but did nothing towards provision of safe drinking water for the affected communities.
The Arthur D. Little - NEERI study, that remains confidential to date, reports that 21% of the factory premises is seriously contaminated with toxic chemicals such as lindane, sevin and temic. The study also found that the concentration of contaminants increases with depth and recommended a detailed study to determine the extent of contamination. Nothing was heard of that.
The state government, while publicly denying contamination of groundwater by Carbide's chemicals, sought a grant of Rs. 8 crores from the Union government for an alternate supply of drinking water to the affected communities.
In December 1999, Greenpeace published its report on the analysis of samples taken from in and around the Union Carbide factory. Their report mentioned the presence of heavy concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals and mercury (20,000 to 6 million times the expected levels). Twelve volatile organic compounds, most of them greatly exceeding EPA standard limits, were found to have seeped and continue to seep into the drinking water sources of the local communities. The following are some of the compounds found by Greenpeace in one of the drinking water tubewells in Atul Ayub Nagar just north of the Union Carbide factory.
In its report Greenpeace called the factory site a 'Global Toxic Hotspot' requiring immediate clean up by Union Carbide.
While the state government has maintained a long and deliberate silence over the Greenpeace report, it is actively courting the Canadian International Development Agency [CIDA] for funds to deal with the toxic waste problem. Most of the funds are however, expected to go to R. J. Burnside International Ltd., a Canadian environmental engineering firm that is being actively supported by the Chairman, M.P. Pollution Control Board, Mr. V.K. Jain. The 5000 families who are routinely forced to drink the contaminated water have little to rejoice about as regards the promised Canadian assistance. In all official communication with the CIDA, the toxic waste problem is mentioned only as the chemicals stored in tanks in the plant, go-downs and drums. Well over 1000 metric tonnes of chemical waste that lie below the ground are poisoning drinking water sources. This is not mentioned in these communications.
In May 2000 the BGPMUS and BGIA denounced the Canadian venture as yet another example of obfuscating the magnitude of the environmental crime of Union Carbide, and actively colluding with the killer corporation in evading criminal and environmental liability. The organisations also called for prosecution of Mr. Jain for his wilful neglect of the environmental health of the communities adjacent to Carbide.
16. Good news from Bhopal : Workers
victorious against Union Carbide
17. Very poor
Of the 152 worksheds built in 1990 at the Special Industrial Unit, 16 are only partially functional and 52 have been converted into barracks for the paramilitary Rapid Action Force. Only 461 persons have received any training in the last 13 years.
13 local NGOs, most of whom are connected to the ruling party were entrusted with running training-cum-production centres by the government in 1994. By 1998 all except two of these NGOs were not running any kind of employment generation program. In 1998, production of jute handicrafts was begun with an investment of Rs.1 crore that offered employment to 400 women for 13 months. However, on March 16, 1999 this program was terminated on the grounds that there was no market for the goods produced.
The BGPMUS has recently set up a training-cum-production centre to be run by the Swabhiman Mahila Prashikshan Sanstha. At the moment the centre employs 100 women who prepare jute bags and do stitching work.
18. No support to
widows and orphans
19. CAG's damning indictment against the MP
In its report tabled in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, the CAG has blamed the State Government for poor utilisation of funds and for expenditure on activities not connected with relief or rehabilitation of the gas victims. The State Government has also been put in the dock by the CAG for excessive payment of Rs.19.46 lakhs to the Indian Red Cross Society and purchase of medicines at exorbitant rates. The CAG has also been critical of the excess payment of Rs.3.94 crores due to cost escalation and Rs.7.4 crores on additional items during the construction of the Kamla Nehru Hospital. The report has also highlighted the excessive expenditures made on the Indira Gandhi Hospital for women and children.
In the matter of economic rehabilitation of the gas victims, the CAG has pointed out that only 4,080 persons were trained in less than 25 trades against the target of giving vocational training to 3,600 persons each year in 40 different trades between 1990 and 1999. The "Special Industrial Area" under which 152 industrial worksheds were constructed to provide jobs to 10,000 workers at a cost of Rs.8.19 crores has also been described as a disaster since only 2,443 workers could benefit under this project.
20. Good news from Bhopal: The struggle