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The Bhopal Gas Tragedy – Maybe something good will come out of all this, all the political discussion




The Bhopal Gas Tragedy has been one of the worst incidents in the history of India, right up there with the unpunished anti-Sikh riots of 1984, and the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots of 2002. The gas attack, in the dead night of early December 1984, had a personal connection for me. My dad had been in Bhopal for a official visit, just leaving a day before; a close call for us, but not for the thousands who perished from the effects of the gas in the first few days after the tragedy. This is a tragedy that has affected many hundreds of thousands as well, those who did not immediately suffer a fatality in the aftermath of the tragedy, but who were affected due to the effects of the gas, and suffered a series of health problems that have lasted till this day, and who will continue to suffer the effects for long periods after. And yet, they can be called a forgotten generation. After all, were it not for the recent court case that awarded a measly 2 year punishment to many office bearers of the company at the time of the gas attack, who would have said a word about a tragedy that struck 26 years back ? In fact, just the fact that it took 26 years for the judicial process to grind to a decision about criminal culpabilities is itself a grotesque tragedy.
One benefit of the recent controversy has been a discussion about what are the rightful next steps to take for resolving the tragedy. For long, the factory (still present, with whatever contaminant still keeps on seeping into the soil) remains on the ground, and there had been no discussion on how to clean up the place (and one of the major steps in any industrial disaster is the clean up process of an industrial disaster); the recent discussion has been about how to setup a process to clean up the disaster area (even though there are disputes about whether it will be the central Government or the state Government that will be responsible for the cleanup process). There is also a realization that the compensation given earlier was inadequate, but the current debate overall the proposed new compensation policy is also riven by dispute, and there is a worry that there will be enough red-tape in the entire process that a number of people affected by the tragedy will continue to not get the required compensation.

The biggest controversy in all this is the fate of Warren Anderson. From all the discussion so far, it would seem that the chain of steps was that Warren Anderson wanted to see the actual site of the tragedy, but was astute enough that the heated atmosphere could entrap him, and so sought safe passage. He was granted this safe passage, and when was arrested by the local administration in Bhopal, that promise was invoked. Given that he traveled by a state Government plane to Delhi, then met the President before leaving the country, would seem that both the State Government (headed by Arjun Singh) and the Central Government (headed by Rajiv Gandhi) were to blame. The Congress has left Arjun Singh to his own statements (and he has clammed up, wanting the entire controversy to die down), but will do everything to ensure that the memory of the late Rajiv Gandhi does not get entangled in this.
However, one needs to see whether all this discussion of the Group of Ministers comes out with something that will actually benefit the people involved. There are a huge number of people who have been affected at various levels by this tragedy, some who suffer huge losses and medical problems, and some who suffer ailments that are persistent or come up at regular intervals.




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