Narrative: Bhopal Union Carbide Tragedy
By Yashvardhan Meratia
The author is a first-year law student at National Law University Odisha and Executive Head at LAWOGS.
3rd December 1984 is the date that Bhopal can never forget. Due to a series of negligence by the cooperation of a USA based company Union Carbide, at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, a toxic gas Methyl isocyanate (MIC) got leaked from the plant and form an invisible cloud of death over the city of Bhopal which took the lives of over 10,000 people and injured over 6,00,000 people
(THE SILENCE BEFORE THE STORM)
Date – 2nd DECEMBER,1984
[There is peace on the streets of Bhopal; after all, it is called the city of lakes; the greenery all around. In Bhopal, the mornings start with a cup of tea and end with a Nawabi Paan. But the streets still haul upon the unforgettable incidents which are still fresh in the memories of those who were there when it happened. And the story begins.]
It was a normal day for me. As per my daily routine,my mother woke me up for school, and as always I was not ready to leave the bed, (it was December, quite cold). And I was not a very studious person. Yet, I could never beat my mother as she always managed to get me up on my feet and the daily military regime begin . I had to walk to my school which I used to do with two of my pals, Rajesh and Sanjeev. I forgot to introduce you to me. I am Anurag. So following our daily schedule before reaching our school, we have to take a halt at our favorite tea stall. (Radheshayam chai & naashta bhandaar). While sipping the hot cup of tea and eating hot potato fillers, we heard a group of uncles talking about something, (the new UCIL plant is gonna change the future of this city. It will create a lot of employment and our Bhopal will become just like Bombay. Another said – it’s like a ticking time bomb that would create a disaster in our beautiful city, the third said – don’t think negative, the company has a proper safety system which eliminates any risk.), not understanding what they are talking about , we three just started heading towards our school. After school, the daily routine, homework, playing, eating and life went on. But there was still a question in my young brain that what were those people talking about, so, just as always, on the dinner table, when me, my father, and two of my brothers were having dinner I raised this question (“father what’s your stance on UCIL?”); giving me the death stare he replied (Where have you been ? Why this question arose in your mind? Well, it’s some multinational company that’s being set up near Chola. And if you are planning to visit it with your friends, don’t you dare). After that I had no guts left to cross-question him. My father continued (Gayatri(my mother) I have arranged for the car, we have to leave for Ajay’s marriage tomorrow in the morning. The marriage is on 3rd and 4th of December so, tell the maid that we will be back by 5th and we will leave early morning tomorrow).
CHAPTER – 2
(WHAT HAPPENED AT UCIL BHOPAL ON THE NIGHT OF 3RD DECEMBER 1984)
Date – 3nd DECEMBER,1984
[In 1984, the plant was manufacturing Sevin at one-quarter of its production capacity due to decreased demand for pesticides. Widespread crop failures and famine in the subcontinent in the 1980s, led to increased indebtedness and decreased capital for farmers to invest in pesticides. Local managers were directed to close the plant and prepare it for sale in July 1984 due to decreased profitability. When no ready buyer was found, UCIL made plans to dismantle key production units of the facility for shipment to another developing country. In the meantime, the facility continued to operate with safety equipment and procedures far below the standards found in its sister plant in Institute, West Virginia. The local government was aware of safety problems but was reticent to place heavy industrial safety and pollution control burdens on the struggling industry because it feared the economic effects of the loss of such a large employer.
At 11.00 PM on December 2, 1984, while most of the one million residents of Bhopal were sleeping, an operator at the plant noticed a small leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and increasing pressure inside a storage tank. The vent-gas scrubber, a safety device designed to neutralize toxic discharge from the MIC system, had been turned off three weeks prior. Apparently, a faulty valve had allowed one ton of water for cleaning internal pipes to mix with forty tons of MIC. A 30-ton refrigeration unit that normally served as a safety component to cool the MIC storage tank had been drained of its coolant for use in another part of the plant. Pressure and heat from the vigorous exothermic reaction in the tank continued to build. The gas flare safety system was out of action and had been in the same state for three months. At around 1:00 AM, December 3, loud rumbling reverberated around the plant as a safety valve gave way sending a plume of MIC gas into the early morning air. Within a few hours of this incident, the streets of Bhopal were littered with human corpses and the carcasses of buffaloes, cows, dogs, and birds. An estimated
3,800 people died immediately, mostly in the poor slum colony adjacent to the UCC plant. Local hospitals were soon overwhelmed with the injured and a crisis further compounded by a lack of knowledge of exactly what gas was involved and what its effects were. It became one of the worst chemical disasters in the history and the name ‘Bhopal’ became synonymous with industrial catastrophe.]
CHAPTER-3 (THE CATASTROPHE)
Date – 3nd DECEMBER,1984
At around 1:30 A.M., on 3rd December, my father received a call from our family doctor, Dr. C.S. Schlecha. My mother woke me and my older brothers up. We were instructed to put wet cotton balls in our noses and ears and cover our faces with a cloth. I saw my mother crying, never have I ever seen her cry and I understood that something was wrong. I saw my father continuously calling various people, talking, shouting. My mother took us into our room, closed all the windows and covered the door with a cloth and started praying. I don’t know if I could ever forget that moment wherein my mother told me that she loves me the most, hugged us, and just cried. My father knocked on the door; asked my mother to just take as much stuff as possible along with her, directed her to take the kids and get inside the car. My mother rushed – she took some food, some medicines till then my father took out his gun, loaded it and got prepared as if we were going on a war. My young heart could not take it anymore- I shouted …[What is going on here? Can anyone just explain it to me, please.. ] when, my father came to me and said (“don’t be scared son, I will not let anything happen to my family”). We closed the doors of our house, got inside the car which my father borrowed from one of his friends as we had to leave for Indore on that very day. And we left. We found people begging on the streets asking for help; crying, asking just to take their babies along. When a group of 3 people stopped our car, my father took out his pistol and asked them to move. We had no clue what was going on there, a huge mob of people kept running for their lives towards Indore for the next 3 days I was in Indore with my family.
[This was the account of escape by just a single-family when there were thousands more. I, being in one of the most beautiful cities never thought that someday I would also face such a disaster and my heart still pounds when I close my eyes and think about what happened to my people on 3rd December 1984 ]
CHAPTER -4 (THE AFTERMATH)
Date – 6th DECEMBER,1984
3 days later, we returned to Bhopal. As we entered the outskirts of the city, we observed corpses of dead animals – there were cows, buffaloes, dogs, and even birds… but as we approached deeper into the city I got the worst sight of my life. I saw piles of the corpse of people who could not escape and Bhopal – the city, became a graveyard! I puked, I cried; it was too much for me to take in. But, had no other choice. Even today, when I close my eyes, I feel terrified thinking that maybe if that day we didn’t have the time, we might have seen another night. It took a long time for me to get over all that happened on 3rd December, 1984. Even after 15 days of the incident, we were scared about being looted or murdered for our stuff as people were on the roads; not having jobs, not having homes, not having food. After 2 months of the incident, things started to get a bit normal. Our schools reopened and as I was lucky enough to have my friends safe, we, on our daily routine, went on the same route where our favorite tea stall used to be. (Radhe- shayam chai & naashta bhandaar), where there was a small boy with a tea flask – when we enquired about what happened, he told that Mr. Radhe-shayam could not survive the gas tragedy and passed away. Things changed, but the wounds of the gas tragedy never vanished. My father, and I both, were announced as gas tragedy survivors. But in the future, it turned out that it affected us as well. My father passed away after a few years due to breathing issues, I am a heart patient myself, and my son had the problem of child asthma which arose due to the gas tragedy. [Whatever happened on 3rd December 1984, could never be forgotten by me. I, as your narrator
would like to introduce myself as The city of lakes – Bhopal. I have heard the noises of my people,
I have seen the beauty of me disappear, I have witnessed a lot, over the years. Will tell you more when you visit Bhopal; we will talk over a cup of tea.]
Read More about Union Carbide Tragedy
What Happened – THE BHOPAL MEDICAL APPEAL
37 years of Bhopal gas tragedy: All you need to know about ‘world’s worst industrial disaster’ | India News – India TV (indiatvnews.com)