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The Bhopal gas tragedy

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									Outline for a talk, on Bhopal
        Gas Tragedy
 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the worst ‘Mega Industrial Disaster’ of the
world happened in the night of 2nd & 3rd December 1984 when a
pesticide plant of Union Carbide spewed about forty to forty five
tons of highly lethal MIC gas. Thousand five hundred persons
were killed instantaneously and lakhs were taken seriously sick but
not a single person of Union Carbide died. The gas had started
trickling slowly long before midnight, may be around ten or even
earlier, but its effect was not felt by the people at large. Union
Carbide people were struggling unsuccessfully to plug the
leakage. Ultimately around one, the entire gas of one tank, about
forty to forty five tons, escaped into the air and created havoc. The
pungent gas was suffocating, irritating in the eyes and was like
flames on the skin, face in particular.
        Spread of MIC Gas

• Union Carbide plant was situated at the
   northern edge of Bhopal city.

• wind was still, hence the gas first went up

• wind blew towards south, carrying the gas
  to those areas

• then wind blew towards southwest,
  hence gas went that way

• then again south etc.

• Thus gas went on slowly moving &
  changing its southward courses as per
  variation in wind directions, went on
  settling down in densely inhabited areas
  and went on inflicting people.
• with the passage of time, it went on
  getting diluted and becoming more &
  more tolerable.
   Immediate consequences in the
       worst affected areas

• Nobody could bear the gas and had to flee away as fast
  as one could.

• Those who had their own vehicles, fled quickly; others ran
  on foot. Those running on foot mobbed & forcibly
  occupied available space in buses, trucks, cars, scooters
  etc. All cooperated in crisis though stampede had its own

• Institutions running round the clock i.e. even in the night
  like Hospitals, Police Stations, etc were deserted. Under
  trials in police station lock-ups were let out to save their
  lives. Police control room’s wireless conversation became

• People who inhaled the gas excessively, died
  instantaneously–either in homes or while fleeing or
  elsewhere; others went on dying gradually as per the
  severity of exposure to this gas.

• Bhopal Railway station was completely defecated due to
  vomited matter, urine and human excreta and was
  stinking in the morning.

• Nothing happened to those who remained indoors
  sleeping with doors & windows tightly closed as gas
  could not enter.
          Effect in outer areas

• People fled to all directions away from the
  Union Carbide area.

• JP District Hospital in south Bhopal about
  12 KM away from Union Carbide factory
  was the first to be flooded with gas
  victims and first to report casualties – first
  two casualties, then three more and so on.

• A large number of persons fled to places
  as far away as Sehore, Hoshangabad,
  Raisen, Gwalior & even Delhi. Some gas
  casualties were reported from these
  places also.
• More distance the gas traveled, more
  diluted it became. Hence in southern
  Bhopal and suburban parts of Bhopal, its
  effect was not felt as people were asleep
Initial response of the administration & the people
  in general and how the macabre sight went on
          unfolding as time progressed

• Whatever happened for one & half hour,
  happened spontaneously. Mobilization of
  Executives Magistrates and Police Officers
  commenced thereafter.

• Initially focus was on regulating the exodus,
  avoidance of accidents and worrying about the
  security of deserted areas, though nothing could
  be done in these respects.

• Realization that the gas was toxic and lethal
  dawned only after getting information about the
  casualties from JP hospital.
• Ambulance from JP hospital was the first to be
  sent to Union Carbide area and then other
  resources were mobilized to transport gas
  victims to hospitals.
• Spot coordinators deployed in various affected
  areas & hospitals by the District Administration
  (duly supplemented by Division’s resources).

• True macabre/dreadful scenario unfolded
  only after daybreak.

• The biggest hospital in old Bhopal i.e.
  Gandhi Medical College & Hospital,
  deserted in the night, became operational
  by daybreak and gave symptomatic
  treatment to gas victims on a massive

• All philanthropic people & NGOs turned up with enough
  eatables, milk, tea, fruits etc at major centers. District
  administration guided them to needy people & places.
  NGOs opened community kitchens at several central
  places and ran them round the clock.

•   Help of chemists enlisted.

• One more exodus in the fore noon on 3rd December.
      Handling and disposal of
            dead bodies

• Almost all dead bodies collected (courtesy
  BMC) in Gandhi Medical College campus
  for identification/PM. (within two days)

• Cremation/burial – shortage of dry wood;
  later supplied by Forest Department.

• A large number of dead bodies remained
  unclaimed / unrecognized.
• Unaware of ex-gratia payment, many dead
  bodies taken directly for last rites / to
  Narmada river. Announcement of ex-gratia
  payment of Rs. ten thousand per casualty
  to the nearest surviving member, was
  made on 04-12-1984.

• Wide gap in the number of casualties
  given out in ‘press briefings’ of the
  Government vis-à-vis the independent
  findings of the Media. Reconciled–after
  night surveys of cremation / burial grounds
  w.e.f. 05-12-1984.
• Want of documentation while collecting
  dead bodies, led to serious problems later.
   Problems confronting speedy
    rescue & relief operations

• Departmental officer after officer went on
  avoiding to take responsibility to send the
  resources wanted by the Control Room of
  the Collector & District Magistrate,
  ostensively on the ground, that the matter
  did not concern him/her and concerned
  some one else.
• Any delay would have led to spread of
  epidemic and other complications.

• Senior bureaucrats in the Government
  also did not respond positively, then the
  Chief Minister was approached.

• Crucial meeting in the Control Room in the
  evening of 4th December under the
  chairmanship of Chief Minister. CS, ACS,
  PS, SECYS, HODS etc attended.

•   Senior representatives of following to remain in my control room for all the 24 Hrs.:-

•   Veterinary Department                  To certify death of insured animals
                                           & to assist in documentation of
                                           animal carcasses.

•   Local Self Govt. &                     Collection of remaining dead bodies,
    Bhopal Municipal Corporation            cleansing of filth & dirt / animal
                                           carcasses, supply of water etc.

•   PHE                                     Water supply.

•   Forest Department.                       Supply of dry wood for cremation.

•   Health Department                        For ambulances & other health services
    Removal and disposal of animal

•   Animal carcasses, bloated buffalos in
    particular, littered across the affected
•   Outside resources started pouring in
    from the early morning of 5th December
    as per plan chalked out previous night.
•   Massive operation on 5th & 6th. Cranes,
    dumpers, tractors etc used.

• Several trucks of lime & salt used.
• Volunteers also did good job.
• Documentation done by joint teams of
  Revenue & Veterinary departments. All
  necessary details noted down. Found
  extremely useful later, during the payment
  of financial assistance for the loss of
    Immediate relief to gas victims

–    Ex-gratia payment of Rs.10000=00 per casualty, to
     nearest surviving member. Announced on 4th

–    Simultaneously financial assistance as under:-
                  - Rs.2000=00 to every serious gas
     victim.             - Up to Rs.1000=00 each to
     other gas victims.

–    20 teams started cash disbursement of ex-gratia
     payment and financial assistance on the spot. Of
     these 16 teams were headed by Special Secretaries

• Many did good job, went from patient to
    patient in hospitals. A few cases went awry –
    Katju hospital & Chhola road to be quoted.

•    Lost & Found – arrangement.
   Operation Faith to neutralize the remaining stock of MIC.
    (under the supervision of DG CSIR assisted by country’s eminent

                   scientists / experts in the field)

• Entry of Warren Woomer & party into UC
• Unnecessary secrecy in plan preparation
  created scare.
• Declaration of holidays in educational institutions
  from12th to 23rd December.
• Special CL in offices wef 3rd to 21st December.

• Parking of a huge fleet of buses in Lal Parade

• Scheme of Operation Faith announced by the
  Secretariat on 13th December.
• Camps in new Bhopal
  on Operation Faith started on 16th December. UC
  campus & the roads around the factory thoroughly
  drenched, a high wall of Hessian cloth raised all around
  the factory & being kept wet all along with fire tenders,
  air force helicopters hovering in the sky over the factory
  ready to shower / drop water on the gas in case it
  escaped into the atmosphere, etc. Neutralization
  nothing but normal production of ‘Sevin’
            Some other relief and
           Rehabilitation measures

• STEP-UP (special training and employment programme for
  urban poor)- introduced from back door. Eligibility – annual
  income of the family not more than Rs 4500/ and age of the
  head not less than 18 yrs.& not more than 40 yrs.

• Free distribution of ration & milk. Initially @ wheat 2 kg & rice
  1 kg. Later wheat 9kg & rice 3 kg per month. Much later oil &
  sugar also.

• Financial assistance for the loss of animals.

• Financial assistance of Rs.1500=00 per family on the basis of
  the survey by Tata Institute of Social Sciences Bombay.
                 Important events

•   Arrest of J Mukund etc.
•   Arrest of Warren Anderson, Keshav Mahindra, and Vijay Gokhale
    on 7th December 1984.
•   Restriction on the entry into Union Carbide factory.
•   Contrivance against the drawl of the sample of killer gas.
•   A large number of claims for ex-gratia payment - controversy over
    the list of gas casualties, unclaimed / unrecognized bodies etc.
•   General Elections – Parliamentary in December 84 & Assembly in
    March 85.
•   Survey by Tata Institute of Social Sciences Bombay.
•   Threats posed by toxic and hazardous gases, chemicals & other
    material in UC factory. 485 tons on 17-12-1984. Attitude of Labour

•   Medical treatment – controversy over ‘Sodium-thio-sulphate’.
•   Claims of gas victims for compensation – supporting documents
    separated and destroyed before medical examination, agreement
    with UC for a paltry sum, tribunal awards also not as per spirit of
    Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act 1985.
•   Litigation in USA. Lackadaisical approach in prosecuting it.
•   Handling of relief material & volunteers.
•   Magisterial Inquiry / Judicial Inquiry –wound up. Vital facts swept
    under carpet.
•   Contrivance / machinations for getting awards.
 (1) Ignoring warnings, repeatedly, proved

   Long term:
• Smaller accidents, resulting even in casualties
  in 1981, 1982 etc.
• Safety report by UCC team in 1982 is also said
  to have apprehended ‘Potential for MIC
  release either due to equipment failure or
  operating failure.’
• several safety systems to prevent disasters; one
  after another became dysfunctional.

• On D-day, Gas slowly trickling for several hours,
  apparent signal for disaster.
• neither vulnerable people informed through
  ‘sirens’ nor District Administration.
• Vulnerable people not informed about the use of
  wet cloth on the face to protect themselves from
  the gas.
(2) Dual Administration does not work.

• Spot coordinators deployed by the
  Secretariat could not do anything.
   (3)Responsibility & Power should go
             hand in hand.

• Drawl of sample of killer gas during Operation Faith –
  DG CSIR, Secretary Sc & T and Home Secretary were
  taking all decisions in consultation with Union Carbide
  and communicating directly with MP High Court but were
  tossing High Court’s order on to DM for getting
  compliance from Union Carbide/DG CSIR done.
• Disbursement of ex-gratia & financial assistance and
  Survey by Tata Institute of Social Sciences etc by
  Secretariat departments directly but were not owning
  responsibility before State Level Committee. Hence
  STEP-UP through back door.
    (4) Arrogant & casual intervention by
        Top-Bosses should be avoided

• Confusion in STEP-UP

• CS’ refusal to hear any suggestion on
  procedure for money disbursement (on 04-12-
  1984) & lifting of animal carcasses.
(5) SYSTEMS Important, casual & haphazard handling
   of Relief and Rehabilitation schemes - a blunder.

• Accounts of payments of ex-gratia and
  financial assistance not maintained
• Many claimants got ex-gratia payments
  more than once.
• Many ineligible persons got ex-gratia
  payments illegally.
• No recoveries were possible for want of
  any sensible records.

• Total confusion in the case of financial
  assistance (Rs.2000 & Rs.1000). Violence
  erupted in one centre but all teams discontinued
  disbursement. In the absence of any sensible
  accounts, it was not possible even for those
  teams to know who had received assistance and
  who has not. Hence also payments could not be
  resumed. Substantial number of gas victims left
  out & deprived of their due.             Serious
  complications followed.
         (6)Coordination – THE CRUX

• Confusion in schemes at (5) above for
  want     of coordination also.
• Preparation of the list of casualties.
• Serious infirmities in the Survey by Tata
  Institute of Social Sciencs.
  Following schemes well managed due
         to proper coordination

• rescue & relief operations (eatables etc with the help of
  the society)
• collection & final rites of the dead bodies within two days.
• cleansing the city of animal carcasses within another two
• Free distribution of ration & milk etc (under the guidance
  of Food Secretary) for several lakhs of people for several
• Disbursement of financial assistance for the loss of

• Survey and implementation of STEP-UP (Special
  training and employment programme for urban poor).
• Drawl of the sample of the killer gas in compliance of
  High Court order, when Senior Secretaries went on
  tossing it to one another.
• Payment of financial assistance of Rs.1500=00 per
  family on the basis of the survey by Tata Institute of
  Social Sciences Bombay.
• Assistance to Secretariat teams in locating beneficiaries
  to receive payments and to Home Secretary in
  reconciling the wide gap in the number of casualties etc.
                Some other lapses

• Faulty determination of gas affected area.
• Failure to get just & fair compensation for the gas victims
     Documentation of loss of life & damage to health, massive devastation
      and       expenditure on rescue & relief operations, etc not done.
     For litigation in USA, our lawyers neither given any write up containing
      all necessary details, nor briefed properly. Very casual approach on
      our side.
     Agreement with UC on hopelessly low amount.

• 3 A few Top doctors & bureaucrats, either connected with or
  sympathetic to Union Carbide, should have been divested of their
  responsibilities in respect of the functions relating to this disaster
• 4 Necessary additional manpower, for Relief & Rehabilitation, on
  long term basis not provided for months.
Thank You

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