The curtain came down this week, in a manner of speaking, on a long and arduous trial that should have elicited more shock and sadness around the world than it has – the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the curative petition filed by the union government asking for higher compensation for the victims of what is simply the world’s worst industrial disaster.
Petition took 13 long years
The curative petition with a demand for an additional Rs 7,400 crore from Dow Chemicals, the current owner of Union Carbide Corporation which oversaw the Bhopal gas plant in 1984 when the disaster happened, had raised hopes but the SC listed three clear reasons why it would not hold. Among them was the delay on the government's part. But the petition took 13 long years to be decided upon at the highest levels of the judiciary.
Inordinate delays leading to deficient justice and inferior compensation have been the shocking hallmarks of the hard battle that the victims have been fighting. This is about more than half a million people who continue to bear the aftermath of the tragic gas leak — nearly 45 tonnes of the deadly methyl isocyanate — on the intervening night of December 2 and 3 in 1984.
The SC dismissal this week caps it all
The sub-standard equipment and lax safety standards, lower than Carbide’s world standards then, snuffed out nearly 3,000 lives (the official toll climbed to nearly 5,800 later) though campaigners have shown the toll to be closer to 20,000, and left more than half a million across generations with respiratory problems, eye irritation or blindness, reproductive problems, and other maladies.
In 1989, the Union Carbide Corporation paid $470m as full and final compensation to the Indian government which the latter signed off. Hundreds of tonnes of the industrial waste continued to be on the site. Case after case filed by victims’ associations came to a naught as the millstone of “full and final compensation” came back to haunt the victims as well as the government’s later efforts for a fairer amount.
The SC dismissal this week caps it all. There is virtually no hope for the victims to get anything beyond the paltry few thousands they received back then. Bhopal’s victims have been let down again and left to fender on their own — just as the panic-stricken people were that fateful night nearly four decades ago.
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