Celebrations on the streets of Bhopal. Now almost 20 years later all survivors will finally get meagre compensation. Full justice will require Dow Chemical to clean up the polluted site.
In May the Indian Supreme Court ordered the provision of piped
drinking water to the people living near the Dow/Carbide plant;
they have been drinking the poisoned ground water for over 20
in June the Indian government, recognising the extent of toxic
contamination at the abandoned Dow/Carbide factory, officially
informed US authorities that it had no objection to Dow Chemical
being ordered by a competent US court to carry out environmental
remediation of the plant in Bhopal.
Now the Supreme Court has cleared the distribution of the
balance of compensation remaining from Union Carbide's settlement
among the 566,876 Bhopalis whose claims have been partly settled
for injuries and loss of family. The balance of the undistributed
compensation has grown to around US$327 million.
A simplistic calculation reveals that US$327 million divided
amongst 566,876 survivors is about US$570 per family. That has to
pay back debts incurred over the last 20 years. To cover costs of
on going medical treatment and hospital bills.
for surviving one of the world's worst chemical industry disasters.
For losing family members, your lungs, your liver, your will to
live. For continuing to live around a toxic hotspot, where toxic
dust, air and water compromises your already damaged health and
financial situation. Twenty years of medical bills. Twenty years of
trying to make ends meet. Twenty years of waiting. Waiting for
retribution, waiting for justice, waiting for US$500. Despite the
fact that Dow thinks
"$500 is plenty good for an Indian" it isn't.
Tomorrow, there will be long queues outside the Collector's
office. To fill forms, to confirm identities, to ink thumbs, to
collect a draft, to stand in another queue. To stand and dream and
as televisions flash images of celebrating Bhopalis, a dust storm
swirls across the abandoned Dow/Carbide factory site, a fine cloud
of white powder in the air burns your eyes. The intrusive,
all-pervasive smell of chemicals reminds you of the ongoing
pollution. Of processed, semi-processed and unprocessed chemicals
that together made that deadly pesticide called Sevin, breaking
down, reacting and travelling through dust, air, and water. Racing
through the blood of those who stand in queues and dream and hope
and clutch on to their identity cards that will get them
Tomorrow it will rain and the gushing waters will seek cracks in
the earth to deposit the poisons deep into the aquifers, to be
pumped up again when the government's piped promise dries up.
the queues outside hospitals that dot Bhopal, are back to business
as usual. Men and women, young and old, in burkhas and saris, in
grubby fez caps and stained pyjamas, wheezing, coughing, moaning,
and very sick.
Already the Bhopalis are beginning to worry, lest the world
begins to believe that their woes are over. Worried that their
friends and supporters around the world should assume that the
belated steps taken by the Indian government and the Supreme Court
translate into an end to their suffering. That the additional money
will change their wretched plight. That justice has been meted
But the truth is, US$570 will disappear before you can say 'Dow
Chemical'. The clean drinking water in pipes will dry up sooner
rather than later. Their health complications will only get
Very little will change until the absconding criminal
corporation, Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical are held
liable for a series of crimes against the Bhopalis.
little will change unless Dow is forced to clean-up the poisonous
factory site. Unless
Warren Anderson stands trial for the massacre. Unless a
comprehensive medical rehabilitation programme is put in place for
survivors and their children. Unless there is a plan for economic
rehabilitation for survivors.
The Indian government has done and will do what it was supposed
to do a long time ago; the Indian Supreme Court will ensure it. But
it has no or very little funds in the kitty after being
shortchanged by the Union Carbide following the infamous
settlement. Carbide shares rose after the 1989 compensation
decision because it got away with paying a fraction of the
compensation if the accident had happened in the US.
is the time to begin building pressure on Dow to own up to its
responsibilities and liabilities in Bhopal. Now is the time to
rally all friends and supporters of the Bhopalis around the world,
to make that big push to hold a criminal corporation liable. Now is
the time to remember that a real victory in Bhopal will set a
precedent for millions who continue to suffer Bhopal-like tragedies
every day, every where. Twenty years is too long.
Our section on
Bhopal and Dow, including a
timeline of the ongoing disaster.
polluted site of the abandoned factory in Bhopal.
View the three part slideshow on the Bhopal disaster:
Part One - Immediate aftermath and the tragic effects of
an avoidable disaster.
Part Two - Devastating effects on local people still
suffering almost 18 years later.
Part Three - Suffering but not in silence- Will Dow listen
to calls to clean up Bhopal?