November 30, 2009
Bhopal is the name of an actual, living city—a city with an elected government and real residents you can see traveling through real streets that look a lot like the streets you will find in many other Indian cities. Those of us living in Delhi or beyond have no doubt about this: Bhopal appears from time to time in our newspapers; it occupies a place on our maps; we may pass through its railroad station on the way to other places.
But since the chemical disaster that happened 25 years ago this week, Bhopal’s name has come to represent something else as well; something less tangible than the city that serves as the capital of Madhya Pradesh, but no less real. Like Chernobyl, Darfur, Hiroshima, and several other cities that come to mind if you think for a moment, Bhopal’s name now stands for something horrific that should never have happened.
Symbols like these are powerful: they help us understand the world we live in—what is wrong in it and what is right; what is just, what is criminal. But as powerful as they are, these symbols are also ephemeral: unlike real cities, they are not made of cement and steel, but are the product of our collective memories; the more we forget, the more they fade.
So let’s not forget these few things:
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November 29, 2009
As the crow flies, or as the gas leaks, the Union Carbide plant is no more than a hundred metres from Tulsabai’s one-room home in the shantytown of JP Nagar in Bhopal. When I arrive there one afternoon, she is asleep on a mat. Much as she must have been, I think to myself, that dark night in 1984. So many years later, there in that one room, Tulsabai and I sit to chat. And I am disconcerted to find I am listening to her only intermittently.
For I’m very conscious of that plant. Of its dilapidated, weed-surrounded bulk: a brooding presence, right there across the street. Much as it must have been in 1984. Only a hundred metres away as the crow flies. Only a hundred metres away as the gas whispers death.
Apologies, Tulsabai. But I hear you. I hear the pain and sorrow in your quavering voice, the hurt that has not gone all these years later. And I understand how much is wrong, unjust, about how the tragedy of Bhopal has played itself out.
The bare bones, first. Nearing midnight on Sunday, December 2 1984, a cloud of deadly gas erupted from a storage tank in the Carbide plant. Reams have been written about what the cloud contained, how it was formed and how it leaked. Suffice it to say, here, that over the next few hours, it spread some 27 tonnes of poison — think of it, 27 tonnes wafting through the air — over a sleeping city.
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November 29, 2009
Some extracts from a piece in the Washington Post:
Twenty-five years after poisonous plumes of chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide factory here, survivors are protesting a government plan to open the site to the public.
Officials said this week that visitors would be allowed to tour the plant to commemorate the disaster and help people come to terms with it.
“Just like we go to Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Ground Zero in New York to remember and pray for victims, so many people from around the world want to visit the Bhopal Union Carbide factory to learn about the disaster,” said Babulal Gaur, minister of relief and rehabilitation for the Bhopal victims.
After visiting the site in September, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, told reporters: “I went inside, touched toxic material and I am still alive. I am not coughing.”
His remarks offended many survivor groups. “It is like saying, ‘I held a cigarette and did not get cancer.’ Many of the chemicals at the site are persistent organic pollutants that remain in the soil for hundreds of years,” said Satinath Sarangi, an activist.
Gaur said $25 million has been set aside for a museum inside the plant
Update (Via Students for Bhopal
Government will not open Bhopal plant as memorial (CNN)
“Everyone wants to see the world’s worst industrial disaster,” said S.R. Mohanty, the secretary for the Relief and Rehabilitation Department for the Bhopal gas tragedy.
It was going to be the government’s way of reassuring its people that the plant no longer posed a threat to society.
But the move sparked protests from victim rights groups and environmental activists. Just days before the anniversary, government officials backed away from the plan they had recently announced.
The official reason, however, had little to do with the gas leak.
Mohanty cited an election rule currently in force that prohibits acts that could be construed as attempting to influence voters ahead of the polls. Bhopal’s municipal elections are scheduled for December.
The plant could still be opened at a later date.
Update (Via @BhopalMedAppealStudents for Bhopal
Dow Not to be ALLOWED to Clean up TOXIC waste (Business Standard)
“We will not allow Dow to even enter the factory premises. Ours is an elected government of 6.5 million people,” Babulal Gaur, Bhopal gas relief and rehabilitation minister told BS
“Had he summoned up his courage against the company, the toxic waste would not have been lying there for years. He was an advocate of Union Carbide in 1982, he cannot speak against them and makes this kind of statement to appease the successor (Dow) now ,” Rasheeda Bi, managing trustee of Chingari Trust (an NGO fighting for survivors’ right) expressed his anger. Rasheeda Bi is a Goldman Environmental prize winner who has ignited the international campaign to seek justice for the disaster survivors.
Satinath Sarangi, who is also actively working for survivors for the last 25 years reacted, “Dow is responsible and the minister is also responsible to making Dow pay for clean up. It is his 180-degree turn from his earlier statement to make Dow pay for clean up.”
Recently the NGOs and survivors have expressed their anger over government’s announcement to open the premises for the public. Later, the government took a U-turn in view of the elections and said, “We will open the premises in January forever. We will open it for public from January as civic body elections are nearing. We will open it forever as we have High Court permission in this regard.”