“350 of UCIL replied, “It is not a

“350
killed as poisonous gas leaks from Bhopal plant.”1
“Gas kills over 400 in Bhopal.”2
“410 die in toxic gas leak from factory”3

These
were the headlines of the leading newspapers of the country on December 4,
1984, after forty tons of toxic gases from a pesticide plant in Bhopal spread
throughout the city causing damages which are felt even today. Water carrying
catalytic material entered Storage tank No. 610 which stored Methyl Isocyanate
(MIC). MIC is an extremely hazardous chemical, a poison against which
“stringent precaution must be observed to eliminate any possibility of
human contact.”4

On
the night of December 2, 1984, the safety systems of the plant were inoperative
as they were under designed. The siren which could have alerted the people in
the neighborhood was sounded after the leak actually started though the
officials knew about the build-up an hour before the actual leak. People ran in
panic in order to get away from the poisonous cloud which had covered Bhopal.

Many
people started experiencing pain in the eyes, breathlessness, after inhalation
of the gas. It is imperative to note that people ran to the hospitals and the
hospital staff was unprepared in accordance to the solution of this
unprecedented situation. In order to acquaint themselves with the true essence
of the situation, the doctors called up the plant medical officer. Dr. Loya who
was the official doctor of UCIL replied, “It is not a deadly gas, just
irritating, a sort of tear gas.”5

The
tragedy was one of the biggest disaster in the world.

 

SIGNIFICANCE:

The
disaster acted as a learning experience for the country. It is important to
note that lessons from a disaster can be learnt only after we understand the
reasons behind a tragedy. Various theories are present regarding the actual
cause of the accident. But every theory relates back to one reason that there
were not enough mechanisms in accordance to the safety of the plant. This
caused the death of 10,000 people in the first week after the leak and more
than 25,000 later. It is imperative to note that the ill effects of the tragedy
are still present in Bhopal. The tragedy is still affecting families and new
born babies in the city.6
Families and their generations have been destroyed. 7

The
lessons we learn from this disaster are many which can help in preventing such
a disaster from happening again in future. The primary lesson must be in
consonance to the safety culture which needs to be present in the relevant
authorities, the employees and the organization as a whole. The behavior of the
management must be governed by a clear safety culture. 

In
1984 safety management systems were not widely established, although there were
recommendations and procedures such as PSM (Process Safety Management). A
strict compliance of such measures is necessary for ensuring the safety of the
workers as well as the neighborhood of the industry.

The
main cause of the tragedy was unnecessary storage of large quantities of MIC.
This reflect a lack of intrinsic safe designs and their compliance in the way
these industries conduct their tasks. It is important to note that
intrinsically safe designs must be complied with by the all the industries
strictly which allows for a safer working of the industry.

The tragedy also had legal significance. The
Government of India appointed itself as sole representative of the victims for
any legal communication with UCC for processing of compensation by the Bhopal
Gas Leak Act of 1985. Thereafter, the Government of India filed a claim suit
against Union Carbide for compensation and damages in the United States
District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Later, the Department
of Environment came under considerable pressure after the Bhopal Gas disaster from
to decide on “comprehensive legislation” for the control of toxic and
hazardous substances. Therefore a new statute, the Environment (Protection)
Act, was enacted in May 1986.8  Various powers were conferred on the central
government with respect to setting of standards for the regulation and handling
of hazardous substances. After the disaster, the Bhopal Act was passed. It was
an immediate legislative reaction to the Bhopal disaster. The Act replaced an
earlier Ordinance9
that had been promulgated to meet an unprecedented situation which was created
by the filing of individual suits by American lawyers. This aspect will be
dealt in detail in the final project.

1 The Hindu, December 4, 1984, at p.1

2 The Hindustan Times, December 4, 1984, at p.1

3 Indian Express, December 4, 1984, at p.1

4 The State of India’s Environment 1984-85: The Second Citizens’
Report (1985)

5 Dominique Lapierre & Javier Moro, It was five past midnight in
Bhopal, Full Circle Publishing, 2001.

6 “Women Bear the Brunt”, States man, 22 Nov. 1987, p.1

7  “A Disaster for
Generations”, Hindustan Times, 24 Sept. 198, p.5.

8 Act No.29 of 1986

9  The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster
(Processing of Claims) Ordinance 1985