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Political

By June 2005 Babulal Gaur, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, had for a year been ignoring a Supreme Court ruling to provide safe drinking water for communities whose wells were being poisoned by chemicals leaking from the derelict Carbide plant. The reason: lack of funds. But this did not stop him announcing plans to spend Rs 800 crores ($180 million) on beautifying the state’s cities with ornamental fountains and other amenities. Women who went with their children to government offices to protest were beaten, kicked and punched by police. We have the pictures. Meanwhile the minister in charge of gas relief and rehabilitation celebrated his birthday with a 52 kg cake and a two-mile-long procession which included camels and dancing horses. (Picture on this page.) To this add decades of neglect and broken promises from successive Indian governments, and the indifference of every US president from Reagan to Obama, and no wonder the Bhopalis sing:

Asia, Afrika, Amrika shake,
thrones and kings fall down, queen’s crowns
set with precious stones go rolling in the dust
when the people wake.
Politicians quiver, Kampani trembles
rip-off laws begin to totter
and the CM, dirty rotter, shivers when the people wake.

Survivors

“Bhopal isn’t only about charred lungs, poisoned kidneys and deformed foetuses. It’s also about corporate crime, multinational skulduggery, injustice, dirty deals, medical malpractice, corruption, callousness and contempt for the poor. Nothing else explains why the victims’ average compensation was just Rs 25,000—for a lifetime of misery. Yet the victims haven’t given up. Their struggle for justice and dignity is one of the most valiant anywhere. They have unbelievable energy and hope. It would’ve been a more fitting tribute to their indomitable spirit had Rai better captured the hope and the heroism. But it does tell you that the fight hasn’t ended. It won’t, so long as our collective conscience stirs.” OUTLOOK INDIA

Survivors’ testimonies. History of the survivors’s struggle. Organisations and major actions, starting with the first dharna outside MP Chief Minister’s house, January 1985 and DIG Bangala Hospital march February 1985.
–– Problems affecting survivors. Ill health, lack of compensation, loss of livelihood, neglect by successive governments
–– three padyatras, 1989, 2006 and 2008. Chronicled in detail with relevant maps, photographs and supporting materials
–– hunger strikes and dharnas of 2002, 2008
–– tinshed hunger strike against Madhya Pradesh government
— Neend Udao (Banish Sleep), Jhoot Bolé Kauwaa Katé (Tell Lies, Crow Bites) and other specific campaigns
–– Actions and campaigns against Dow/Union Carbide. Jhadoo Maro Dow Ko (Hit Dow with a Broom)
–– Survivors’ initiatives, interventions in legal cases and victories
–– Current demands. Empowered Commission.
–– Contamination victims not recognised as Carbide’s victims.
–– Information basti by basti. English and Hindi sections.

Charnel Makers: Union Carbide’s disregard for safety nauseates still

OUTLOOK INDIA, July 5, 2010. Union Carbide’s brazen, criminal disregard for safety nauseates still. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his way back from the recent G-20 summit in Toronto, righteously declared his desire to push for a “more favourable” US attitude to extradite former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson. But as his government begins to push for it, which past Congress and BJP governments have failed to do, those monitoring the bitter aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy say it’s not a paucity of factual evidence—to establish Anderson’s guilt of cutting costs on safety measures—but the lack of political will to take on the Americans that impedes his extradition.

Those looking for facts don’t have to look much beyond Bhopal: The Inside Story, a book by T.R. Chouhan, who was one of the operators of the mic plant and was present on site on the night of the disaster. First published in 1997, the book details how the management of the plant was cutting down on safety measures to make up for losses. “Cutting costs in fact began with the design of the plant. The design was unproven and they were using measures that hadn’t been tried out in their plant in the US. The double standards were clear,” he tells Outlook on the phone from Bhopal, where he now works as a government employee.
[pullquote]“Cutting costs began with the plant design. They used measures untried in the US. Double standards were clear.”T.R. Chouhan, Eyewitness, Writer[/pullquote] In fact, campaigners have stressed that the plant in Bhopal was “always underfunded, always second-best” compared to Carbide’s plant in West Virginia, despite the company’s claims to the contrary. Chouhan’s book lists some of the key design downgrades in the Bhopal plant that compromised on safety. These include the presence of atmospheric vents in the methyl isocynate (MIC) tank (through which the gas escaped), something that was not present in the W. Virginia plant. Safety measures like the vent gas scrubber (VGS), used to neutralise toxic release, and flare towers (FT), to burn MIC vapours, had back-ups for continuous protection in the US. This was not so in Bhopal. In fact, the VGS was not operational and the FT was under repair on December 3, 1984. Moreover, hazardous operations, like addition of 1-Naphthol into the MIC reactor, were done manually, which they didn’t dare try in the US. Likewise, there was an evacuation plan for the community living next door in W. Virginia, but not for the one in Bhopal.

The plant in Bhopal produced MIC, a chemical compound used to make pesticides, and stored large quantities of it—much more than permitted—on site. This was because there was a glut of Sevin, Carbide’s MIC-based pesticide, in the market. Yet, Carbide officials in the US and India threw caution to the wind. The most important, yet elementary, safety tool not switched on that night was refrigeration. The unit, explains Chouhan, was turned off that night. In fact, it was never switched on for nearly a year to cut down on costs of electricity and coolants. The savings were just about $37 each day. In its absence, the MIC was at an ideal temperature for a corrosive reaction, whereas the MIC manual had strongly advised keeping it below 5 degree Celsius. Even the temperature censor and alarm for the MIC storage tank had not been working for four years. “We raised all these problems with the local management but were never heard,” Chouhan says.

International campaigners have unearthed various Carbide documents to prove the corporation’s desire to economise on safety measures. In one such document, Carbide states openly how the newer, cheaper and untried manufacturing processes being adopted in Bhopal were an “acceptable business risk”. Things only got worse with mounting losses and growing competition. In 1981, the ‘Bhopal Task Force’ at Carbide was constituted to cut costs, as Carbide’s global profits plummeted from $800 million to just $79 million. Between 1978-83, the Bhopal plant had run up losses of $7.5 million (total investment in it was around $30 million). In February 1984, Union Carbide Eastern vice-president R. Natarajan shot off an angry letter asking “what UCC is going to do to resolve the problem”. Manpower was cut—as many as 335 persons lost their jobs at the plant—and training became sparse. Chouhan exposes how the number of trained personnel was declining, and that in 1984, for the first time, there were more transferees from elsewhere (“with less expertise”) working at the plant. In November 1984, there weren’t even any maintenance supervisors. Before the tragedy, plans were being put together to move the Sevin formulation unit to Indonesia and the phosgene, carbon monoxide and MIC units to Brazil.

Also, any claim that Anderson was unaware about safety problems is unfounded. Robert Oldford, a close colleague of Anderson, was personally informed of the safety-related incidents by local employees in Bhopal when he was there in February 1982, about two months after the first death of a UCIL employee in December. And Anderson, campaigners say, was personally involved in the cost-cutting drive and had openly stated that “intensification of training programs, et cetera, will never happen again”.

But it isn’t just the Bhopal plant which was subject to such obstinate disregard for safety. An internal Carbide report, with a very upfront title—‘Our Ten-Year Safety Failure’—details how safety, or rather the lack of it, had become a nagging issue for its operations in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico between 1959 and 1968. “Had this report been made public then, the 1966 agreement for the Bhopal plant between the Indian government and Union Carbide, and the subsequent granting of industrial licence, would not have happened,” says Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance.

Its writer and Carbide employee R.T. Bradley pointed out that the firm had become the most hazardous employer among the “big seven” chemicals firms, “maiming people at twice the rate of others”. There was an urgent need for “sound investment” to reduce injuries and ensuing losses at its plants, he added. Bradley ended it with a plea that the firm, instead of being “dollar-oriented”, should focus on the “humanitarian aspect”. Evidently, his advice went unheeded. Ultimately, it was Carbide’s mercenary desire to save as little as $37 each day that led to the tragedy, one that remains painfully unresolved even today.

Dow’s attempt to deceive NDTV: notes for editors

NDTV (New Delhi Television) one of India’s prime news channels, yesterday received a letter from Dow spokesman Scott Wheeler claiming that the case to hold Dow responsible for cleaning up Bhopal had been concocted by “activists”. “There are some,” Wheeler wrote, “who continue to try to affix responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy to Dow, but the fact is that Dow never owned or operated the facility in Bhopal.”

There are actually two Bhopal tragedies. The first was the 1984 gas leak. Nobody is trying to hold Dow responsible for that (although it does have the responsibility of producing its subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation to face unanswered criminal charges). Dow’s repeated assertions that it “never owned or operated the facility in Bhopal” are a red herring, attempting to focus and confine attention to the 1984 gas leak and to avoid drawing attention to the second tragedy.

Bhopal’s second disaster

Within five years of the gas leak, with hundreds of thousands in the city still seriously ill, Union Carbide Corporation was aware of a second disaster, which it tried to keep very quiet. This was the lethal contamination of soil and water caused by toxic chemicals leaking from the factory site and from huge open air “solar ponds” a short distance from the site. Carbide’s silence lasted ten years until in 1999 a Greenpeace report revealed the extent, nature and seriousness of the contamination. During those years of silence families already decimated by the gas were poisoned again, children were being born malformed, or brain-damaged. In the decade since the Greenpeace report, the contamination has grown more severe.

Fate of a goat, unwary enough to drink from a solar pond
[pullquote] The rate of birth defects in the parts of Bhopal where the water is contaminated is ten times higher than in the rest of India.[/pullquote] The water supply of 30,000 people is poisoned. Cancer-causing and mutagenic chemicals are present in drinking water, blood and the milk of nursing mothers. The rate of birth defects in the affected areas is running at ten time the rate for the rest of India. For this Union Carbide Corporation is liable and Dow Chemical as owner of Union Carbide, inherits that liability.

Its not just activists who want Dow to clean up Bhopal, Mr Wheeler. So do members of the US Congress, UK House of Commons, European Parliament, Scottish Parliament, academics, writers, journalists, film-makers, actors, musicians, trade unions, students, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, hundreds of other NGOs and huge numbers of ordinary decent people worldwide.

Dow’s PR and the facts it is designed to obscure

Here for the benefit of anyone who ever has to deal with a Dow public affairs spokesperson are the facts the statements are designed to conceal. Dow’s statements to NDTV are given in italics, the facts in bold type. Please follow the links for more detail and for source documents.

Dow says: The solution to this problem . . . rests in the hands of the Indian Central and state governments.

Fact: On June 28th, 2004, the Indian government wrote to the Southern District Court of New York, where the survivors’ lawsuit concerning contamination in Bhopal had been reinstated by the US appeals court. “Pursuant to the ‘polluter pays’ principle recognized by both the United States and India, Union Carbide should bear all of the financial burden and cost for the purpose of environmental clean-up and remediation. The Union of India and the State Government of Madhya Pradesh shall not bear any financial burden for this purpose.”

Dow says: Remediation of the Bhopal plant site is under the oversight of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in Jabalpur. We respect the court and the efforts that it is making to direct the remediation plan for the plant site, which is being funded by the state and central governments . . . The government of Madhya Pradesh, which today controls the site, is working to get the site cleaned up and Dow is hopeful that they will be allowed to follow through with their plans.

Fact: The government of Madhya Pradesh said it would ensure the remediation work got done, not that it would assume liability for the mess, nor pay for it: ‘Under the Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rule 1989 594(E) Section 3 Sub section 1 and Section 4(1) whoever has produced the contaminated waste, it is his responsibility to decontaminate it. . . As per rules it is the responsibility of Union Carbide Bhopal to pay for all the expenses being i[n]curred on the above work.’ Letter from Government of Madhya Pradesh to the High Court in Jabalpur.

Dow says: In 1991, the Indian Supreme Court upheld and affirmed that settlement as complete and final. Union Carbide has no further legal responsibility for the matter.

Fact: In its 1991 judgement the Supreme Court, while upholding part of the settlement, modified it to reinstate criminal charges against Union Carbide Corporation, its then-CEO Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Eastern. These defendants refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court and never showed up for trial. Union Carbide Corporation, now wholly owned by Dow Chemical is still officially a fugitive from justice in India. As Union Carbide’s owner, Dow ought to ensure that its subsidiary answers the outstanding criminal charges.

Furthermore, the settlement did not cover the contamination. In its letter to the New York court of June 28, 2004 the Government of India made this very clear: “Finally, it is the official position of the Union of India that the previous settlement of claims concerning the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster between Union Carbide and Union of India has no legal bearing on or relation whatsoever to the environmental contamination issues . . .”

Dow says: The Dow Chemical Company has never owned or operated the facility in Bhopal nor does Dow have responsibility for any liability related to Bhopal . . . The Dow Chemical Company entered the picture well after the settlement between the Government of India and Union Carbide and Union Carbide India Limited and well after Union Carbide sold all Indian assets and was no longer doing business in India.[pullquote right]The Ministry of Law…has observed that irrespective of the manner in which UCC (Union Carbide Corporation) has merged or has been acquired by Dow Chemical, if there is any legal liability it would have to be borne by Dow Chemical.[/pullquote]Fact: On February 2, 2008 an opinion from India’s Ministry of Law was passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office: “The department has consulted the Ministry of Law, which has observed that irrespective of the manner in which UCC (Union Carbide Corporation) has merged or has been acquired by Dow Chemical, if there is any legal liability it would have to be borne by Dow Chemical.”

NDTV has commented on this in an article published today.

Dow says: When Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation in 2001, it was with the understanding that Union Carbide had settled its civil liability with the Government of India and that the Government and Indian Courts honour their decisions and their commitments.

Dow knew perfectly well that the criminal liability of Union Carbide Corporation with regard to Bhopal remained unresolved. The Supreme Court had revived Union Carbide Corporations’s criminal liability in its judgement of 1991, ten years before the Dow-Carbide merger. Neither Dow nor Union Carbide declared the unresolved criminal liability in their SEC merger submission.

Union Carbide Corporation, has yet to answer the criminal charges and for 18 years has refused to accept the authority of the court. This is the same Union Carbide which in 1986, after persuading a New York judge to transfer the criminal proceedings from the US to India, bound itself to accept the authority of Indian courts. It is not the Indian courts, but Union Carbide and Dow which have refused to honour their decisions and commitments.

Additionally, UCIL – the company that controlled the site when the tragic events took place – exists today in the form of Eveready Industries India Limited.

At the time of the gas leak, UCIL was owned by Union Carbide Corporation, which retained a 50.9% shareholding in order to keep control of the Indian subsidiary. This majority shareholding had been threatened by the Indian governments introduction of the FERA act, 1973, which reduced foreign equity holdings in Indian companies to a maximum of 40%. To get round this, Union Carbide Corporation proposed to the Indian government that it would begin manufacturing MIC (methyl isocyanate) at the Bhopal plant, which until then had just formulated pesticides with imported ingredients. The MIC technology was highly hazardous for which reason, UCC told the Indian government, it would need to retain control of the process. Union Carbide Corporation engineers designed the MIC plant (using untested technology to effect savings of some $8 million), and insisted on the installation of three giant tanks, the size of rail locomotives, to hold liquid MIC. MIC is so dangerous that it is generally used as it is made and never stored. The tanks were opposed by Edward Muñoz, himself a UCC appointee as UCIL’s first managing director, but he was overruled from the US. The huge programme of cost-cutting that halved the factory’s workforce, cut the staff of the MIC unit from 12 to 6, and reduced safety training from six months to two weeks, was carried out under orders from the US based “Bhopal Task Force” overseen by Warren Anderson, and relayed to Bhopal by Union Carbide Eastern in Hong Kong. Substandard technology, storage of MIC in recklessly large quantities, irresponsible cost cutting leading to poor maintenance and neglect of safety including not passing on key warnings, were the key factors that led to the gas catastrophe which cost so many thousands their lives. For this Union Carbide Corporation bears direct responsibility and faces criminal charges which it must one day answer in court. Dow Chemical, well aware of Carbide’s situation when it bought the company, cannot walk away from this.

For more details on UCC’s direct role in the disaster see this bhopal.net article.

Eveready was, in fact, working on some remediation of the site when the state government of Madhya Pradesh revoked their lease in 1998 and took control of the site.

After the disaster, UCIL, directed by Union Carbide Corporation in the US (which tried to conceal its involvement), began assessing contamination at the site with the participation of state government authorities. Several internal studies, showing severe contamination, were not made available to the local public or government. Following the sale of UCIL stock in 1994, Carbide continued directing operations, assisted by its US trained manager, Hayaran, until at least 1995. Eveready Industries India Limited, the successor company, continued to avoid carrying out substantive cleanup work at the site. In July 1998 it suddenly relinquished the site lease to one department of the State Government while being supervised by another department on an extensive clean up programme.

The government of Madhya Pradesh has stated it will pursue both Dow Chemical as inheritor of Union Carbide Corporation and Eveready, inheritor of Union Carbide Indian Limited, as joint tortfeasors, to do the clean up. On June 28th, 2004, the Indian government wrote to the Southern District Court of New York, where the survivors’ lawsuit concerning contamination in Bhopal had been reinstated by the US appeals court. “Pursuant to the ‘polluter pays’ principle recognized by both the United States and India, Union Carbide should bear all of the financial burden and cost for the purpose of environmental clean-up and remediation. The Union of India and the State Government of Madhya Pradesh shall not bear any financial burden for this purpose.”

Per your comment on Polluter Pays, any efforts by activists to apply the “polluter pays” principle to Dow are, again, misdirected. If the court responsible for directing clean-up efforts ultimately applies the “polluter pays” principle, it would seem that legal responsibility would fall to Union Carbide India Limited, which leased the land, operated the site and was a separate, publicly traded Indian company when the Bhopal tragedy occurred. In 1994, Union Carbide sold its interest in Union Carbide India Limited with the approval of the Indian Supreme Court. The company was renamed Eveready Industries India Limited and remains a viable company today.

Under “polluter pays” laws applicable in India as in the United States, Union Carbide Corporation, as the majority shareholder and controlling partner in Union Carbide India Limited is liable to clean up the contamination it caused. Dow Chemical acquired 100% of Union Carbide in full knowledge of the Bhopal contamination. A Greenpeace report detailing the nature and extent of the problem was published in 1999, two years before the Dow-Carbide merger.

When Dow acquired Union Carbide, it acquired Carbide’s liabilities along with its assets. It could not be otherwise, and this is confirmed by the fact that Dow set aside $2.2 billion to cover the asbestos liabilities it had inherited from Union Carbide in the US It can hardly argue that it did not also inherit Union Carbide’s liability to clean up the mess it had created in Bhopal.

The Dow Chemical Company has never had any presence in Bhopal nor does the company have responsibility for any liability relating to Bhopal.

Again, the Dow Chemical Company has never had any presence in Bhopal nor does the company have responsibility for any liability relating to Bhopal. Dow’s responsibility, along with that of the rest of the industry, is to make sure something like this never happens again and to continue to drive industry performance improvements.”

Clupea harengus rufus (the red herring)

Second and third appearance of Dow’s favourite line. Dow has both responsibility and liability: the responsibility to produce its absconding subsidiary Union Carbide in court to face criminal charges, and the inherited liability for the water contamination which, even as this callous game of smoke and mirrors goes on, is killing and deforming children in Bhopal.

By refusing to accept responsibility for the clean up Dow is allowing 30,000 people affected by the water to continue being poisoned, and by obstructing the course of justice Dow by refusing to produce Union Carbide Corporation in court, it is denying any chance of justice and redress to the half million afflicted by the gas disaster.

 

Union Carbide US was the real criminal

WAKE UP PEOPLE OF BHOPAL, YOU ARE ON THE EDGE OF A VOLCANO

In September 1982, the Bhopali journalist Rajkumar Keswani wrote a terrifying story for the city’s Hindi Jansatta daily. Bhopal, Keswani wrote, was about to be annihilated.

‘It will take an hour, at most an hour-and-a-half, for every one to die.’ The death of the city, would come in the form of a gas leak from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory.

Keswani’s information came from worried staff at the factory, where a worker, Ashraf Khan, had just been killed in a phosgene spill.

The World War I gas was being used to produce methyl-isocyanate (MIC), a chemical 500 times deadlier than hydrogen cyanide, so volatile that unless kept in spotless conditions and refrigerated to 0˚C, it can even react explosively with itself.

Cooling it slows reactions, buys time in an emergency, but MIC is so dangerous that chemical engineers recommend not storing it at all unless absolutely necessary and then only in the tiniest quantities. In Europe the storage limit is half a ton. In Bhopal, on the night of the disaster, 67 tons of MIC were stored in tanks the size of steam locomotives.

Storing up danger

In an affidavit given to a court in Manhattan, Eduard Muñoz, Union Carbide’s first managing director of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), said he had opposed the US parent’s plan to install three giant MIC tanks in Bhopal. Muñoz’s position was that ‘only token storage was necessary, in small containers, based on economic and safety considerations.’

He was overruled. According to experts like the Centre for Scientific & Industrial Research the excessive volume of MIC stored in Bhopal, at times over ninety tons, was the most critical factor in the disaster.

Unproven technology

Union Carbide had not originally manufactured MIC in Bhopal, but used to import it from the US.

On January 1st, 1973 the Indian government of India enacted FERA, the Foreign Exchange & Regulation Act, capping foreign equity in Indian companies at 40%. An alarmed UCC (Union Carbide Corporation) which owned 60% of UCIL’s shares, then proposed to the Indian government that it should start manufacturing MIC in Bhopal. The ultra-hazardous process, a Union Carbide speciality, involved high-technology inputs not available in India. In return, Carbide asked to be exempted from FERA. The exemption was granted, enabling UCC to retain majority control.

Union Carbide promised state-of-the-art science but a confidential project proposal obtained via the discovery process in a US court case proves that it had short-changed the Indian government by cutting costs and using ‘unproven’ methods in the ultra-hazardous alpha-napthol and MIC units, as well as in toxic waste treatment. The crucial pages are 10, 11 and 12.

The document shows that UCC’s own engineers warned of problems and risks, but the board decided to go ahead regardless.

UCC’s strategy was to cut costs by $8 million while retaining a 50.99% majority shareholding that gave it operational control of the factory in distant India.

The subsidiary’s Indian managers duly acceded to the US plan, stating that given the aim of spending as little as possible on the new facility, they found ‘the business risk’ acceptable.

No one appears to have considered the human risk.

Paying the price

As endless safety scares plagued the plant, and a sequence of failed monsoons hit harvests and depressed demand for pesticides, the factory began haemorrhaging money. UCC bosses decided to dismantle the plant and ship it to Indonesia or Brazil, but now, as a confidential memo makes very clear, the unproven technology of the alpha-napthol unit made it ‘impossible to sell.’

Carbide was paying the price for its penny-pinching. Having failed to find a buyer, bosses began cutting back on maintenance expenditure at the plant. Now others too would pay the price. But they would pay with their lives.

Death of Ashraf Khan

Ashraf Khan worked in the ‘unproven’ unit of the factory and was desperately worried about the state of affairs there. His wife, Sajida Bano remembers that he often came home complaining about the dangers that he and other workers faced.

On 24 December 1981 Ashraf was asked to replace a defective flange connecting two pipes in the phosgene manufacturing section. His manager assured him there was no danger but no sooner had he removed the flange than phosgene gushed out onto him. He was taken to the plant dispensary and subsequently moved to Hamidia hospital where he died.

Safety audit finds dangers

After Ashraf’s death Union Carbide management sent a team of US engineers to conduct a ‘business confidential’ safety audit.

The May 1982 report identified 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC unit.

Safety measures were improved at Carbide’s MIC plant in West Virginia, but not in Bhopal, where, incredibly, Carbide responded to the death of Ashraf Khan by intensifying its cost-cutting in the most dangerous areas of the plant.

Reckless and lunatic cost-cutting

Between 1980-84 the workforce was halved. The crew of the MIC unit was slashed from twelve to six, and its maintenance staff from six to two.

In the MIC control room a single operator had to monitor seventy-odd panels, indicators and controllers, all old and faulty. which often failed.

Safety training was reduced from six months to two weeks, reduced in effect to slogans, but the slogans were in English so the workers couldn’t understand them.

By the time Keswani began writing his articles, the huge, dangerous plant was being operated by men with little training and less English who were expected to use English manuals.

Morale was low but safety fears were ignored by management. Minor accidents were just covered up. There were so many small leaks that the alarm siren was turned off to avoid inconveniencing the neighbours.

In plants dealing with corrosive chemicals such as methyl isocyanate, experts want fortnightly inspections of valves, pipes, and pumps, with new replacements every six months, but in Bhopal inspections were rare and replacements often not made for up to two years. In case of repairs, the use of new parts was curtailed. Old ones must be recycled.

The instructions came from Union Carbide’s regional holding company in Hong Kong, on whose board sat top US executives who reported back to the parent board in Connecticut. Their private report boasts of having saved $1.25 million, but says that ‘future savings would not be so easy.’

Warning not passed on

In February 1984, a safety audit of the West Virginia ‘sister’ factory raised major concerns that a runaway reaction could occur in one of the MIC Unit storage tanks, in which case there would be no way to prevent catastrophic failure of the tank.

Despite the obvious importance of this report and its relevance to the MIC tanks in Bhopal, the warning was not passed on to the Indian plant, where managers were still looking for things to cut. There was nothing left.

Or was there?

Carbide bosses remembered the three giant tanks of MIC.

Refrigeration turned off

The three huge tanks were meant to be kept refrigerated, as per Carbide’s safety manual , at 0˚C.

This is crucial because MIC is so volatile that unless impeccably kept it can even react with itself. Chilling it slows down lethal runaway reactions of the very sort predicted by the West Virginia safety auditors, buying buys time to solve the problem, and most importantly, giving a chance for warnings to be issued and any nearby populations evacuated to safety.

Given the threat of a catastrophic tank failure and knowing the lethal nature of MIC, Union Carbide did the right thing in West Virginia and further improved its safety systems.

In Bhopal, where ambient daytime temperatures can top 40˚C Carbide turned off the refrigeration of the MIC tanks to save freon gas worth $37.68 a day.

Depraved indifference

As evidence mounted that its factory had been negligently and shoddily managed, Carbide began claiming that UCC, the American parent, had no authority or control over the plant’s design or operations, and could bear no responsibility for the disaster.

In fact every important element, from the ‘unproven’ Alpha Napthol unit down to the MIC plant, had been designed by UCC, or else approved by design engineers in the US.

The true story is told by Carbide’s own confidential papers obtained by ‘discovery’: unproven technology, useless safety systems, storing huge amounts of MIC in conditions made doubly dangerous by negligence and cost-cutting, ignoring warnings; and endangering a whole city to save $40 a day – all of these caused the deaths of 20,000 people and condemned 100,000 more to lifetimes of pain.

Union Carbide Corporation’s culture of greed and double standards, in short racism, bred what one prosecuting attorney in a New York court would describe as a ‘reckless, depraved indifference to human life’.