Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Can Water Wash Away The Guilt of Blood? ( Bhopal Gas Tragedy )

I read an article a few days back about how Dow Chemicals Corporation, in association with a Non-Profit Foundation, has provided safe drinking water to a village as part of its Corporate Social responsibility initiative. That spurred me on to blog this article.

Circa 1970:
Foreign Direct Investment in India was literally non-existent. License Raj was prevailing. However, with the ease of a knife plunging into a mound of butter, the Multi-National Giant , Union Carbide Inc, USA, obtains license to set up a pesticides factory in India.

Circa 1971: . The Madhya Pradesh Government welcomes Union Carbide to set up its factory in the state. UC chooses Bhopal due to its nature of being a junction point with train links to all over India. The Management declared that its avowed goal was to make available latest pesticides to Indian farmers to boost their agricultural production.

Circa 1980: Indian farmers could not afford the prohibitively priced pesticides. As sales slumped, production was suspended. But the deadly raw materials were retained in the factory. However, on specific orders from top, all safety measures were turned off, one after the other to save operational costs. The last safety system to go was the refrigeration system- to save $ 37 a day on the coolant fluid. A ghost factory it was, to make its host city a ghost city.

Act-III Scene-I

1984, December, 2nd-3rd . The clock struck 12, heralding another calendar day. Mothers nuzzled the babies closer to give them more warmth as the night had biting chill. The babies smiled in their sleep, not knowing a ghost was rising from its slumber. The ghost opened its eyes and began to spew out its deadliest gas, methyl isocyanate, ( MIC ) from its belly. A white ghost cloud formed slowly from the factory over Bhopal and descended on the sleeping homes, choking the lungs, wrenching the guts out and made men and women, Infant and animal collapse with crumbling nerves.
And the most primeval instinct of human beings - to run in danger - took over. The million strong populace of Bhopal ran for their lives. Crying and shouting, half- dressed men and women stumbled carrying the infants and dragging along children. Those who fell were not picked up by anybody, they just kept falling, and were trampled on by other people. People climbed and scrambled over each other to save their lives – even cattle were running and crushing people as they ran. In those apocalyptic moments no one knew what was happening. People simply started dying in the most hideous ways. Some vomited uncontrollably, went into convulsions and fell dead. Others choked to death, drowning in their own body fluids. Many died in the stampedes through narrow lanes, where street lamps burned a dim brown through the white ghost clouds of gas. The force of the human torrent wrenched children's hands from their parents' grasp. Families were whirled apart.
The ghost cloud was so dense and searing that people were reduced to near blindness. As they gasped for breath, its effects grew ever more suffocating. The gases burned the tissues of their eyes and lungs and attacked their nervous systems. People lost control of their organs. Urine and feces ran down their legs. Women lost their unborn children as they ran, their wombs spontaneously opening in bloody abortion.

Lucifer would have cringed in horror .

Act-III Scene-II
The dawn came slowly, painfully. For the near and dear of the 20,000 dead, lying stiff on the streets, another 150,000, sick to the last bone, just slumped where they were. For another half-a-million, terrified now, in the knowledge of what would be their future as they were exposed to the gas. The dead were disposed off in mass cremations and graves.

The dawn also came swiftly and eagerly. For the vultures and hyenas. The hyenas came in chartered aircraft, military jets, from all parts of the World . Some were scientists , some were experts in unconventional warfare, descended on the city to observe passively, with clinical detachment, the effects of the deadly gas on the living. They would not get a similar opportunity in their life time. After all, Holocausts do not happen often.

The vultures were the products of Yale and Harvard, sniffers of death from distance, the slick talking lawyers, descended to devour the living in the name of suing the company for compensation and taking a cut. The Chairman and the CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson also came. He was detained by the police but let off by the Indian Government, unable to withstand the pressure exerted by the US Government. Anderson declared that the disaster at the factory was a result of sabotage by an Indian employee.


Circa 1990: Union Carbide, in a partial settlement with the Indian government, agreed to pay out $470 million in compensation for the survivors. The victims weren’t consulted in the settlement discussions. Each survivor got -$300-$500. The dead were forgotten as in most of the families, everyone perished.


Circa 1991: The local government in Bhopal charged Warren Anderson with manslaughter. However, Anderson has never stood trial before an Indian court. In addition, he has also evaded an international arrest warrant and a summons to appear before a US court. For a decade, Anderson’s whereabouts were unknown, until August, 2002 when the Greenpeace found him, living a life of luxury in a resort off Bahamas. The Union Carbide Corporation itself was charged with culpable homicide, a criminal charge whose penalty has no upper limit. These charges have never been resolved, as Union Carbide, like its former CEO, has refused to appear before an Indian court.


Circa 2001: Union Carbide’s world wide assets were bought by Dow Chemicals Corporation. The deal was completed much to the chagrin of a number of Dow stockholders, who filed suit in a desperate attempt to stop it. These stockholders were surely aware that a corporation assumes both the assets and the liabilities of any company it purchases, according to established corporate law. Indeed, Dow was quick to pay off an outstanding claim against Union Carbide soon after it acquired the company, setting aside $2.2 billion to pay off a few hundred former Union Carbide asbestos workers in Texas. However, Dow has consistently and stringently maintained that it isn’t liable for the Bhopal accident.

Circa 2006: The gas-affected people of Bhopal continue to succumb to injuries sustained during the disaster, dying at the rate of one each day. Treatment protocols are hampered by Union Carbide as well as Dow Chemicals continuing refusal to share information they hold on the toxic effects of MIC claiming the data is a "trade secret," frustrating the efforts of doctors to treat gas-affected victims. The site itself has never been cleaned up, and a new generation is being poisoned by the chemicals that Union Carbide left behind and Dow Chemicals refuses to clear. In the neighborhoods near the abandoned factory, people suffer from cancers, gynecological problems, tuberculosis, vision problems, intestinal difficulties, joint pains, chronic headaches, psychiatric problems. These illnesses are a direct result of the left over chemicals polluting the ground water, a thousand times beyond any acceptable limits. Thus the victims in Bhopal have been left in the lurch, told to fend for themselves as corporate executives elude justice and big corporations elude the responsibility. Dow’s unwillingness to fulfill its legal and moral obligations in Bhopal represents only the latest chapter in this horrifying humanitarian disaster. For more than two decades, the victims of Bhopal have continued to demand justice; the only question is: Is there any one to listen?


Circa 2006: Dow Chemicals is active in India, in business as well as in Corporate Social Responsibility activities. It has teamed up with NGOs and Foundations to provide purified drinking water to a village here and there. And now and then, a local daily splashes the story with color pictures of the villagers potting the water, waxing lyrics of the giant MNC for helping the amenities challenged population.

Circa Future:
Dow Chemicals Corporation is the recipient of the top CSR award for its contribution to providing safe drinking water to a few thousand people.

Can Water wash away the Guilt of Blood ???