It is not easy to remember every detail of an event that occurred even a fortnight ago. But December 3, 1984 was different, to put it very mildly. 1984 was a very ‘newsy’ year for journalists and for Indians. The action and reaction sequence which changed the political picture of India permanently started with the Operation Blue Star in June to flush out terrorists holed up in the Golden Temple. This ended up in the killing of Sant Bhindrawale.
The psyche of the Sikh community including a man like Khushwant Singh was hurt who felt that the Army had committed a sacrilege by entering the Golden Temple with boots on. On October 31 then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her own bodyguards in her house. His was followed by riots Hindu Sikh riots resuting in the killing of Sikhs by armed mobs. The sponsored riots stopped by November 4/5 but more was in store.
On December 3, I was in Gwalior to cover the elections of Madhav Rao Scindia. But the next morning we were horrified to see the morning newspapers full of news of what is now knows as the worst chemical disaster of the world when a gas leaked out from a plant of the Union Carbide leaving thousands dead.
Leaving the Scindia story I rushed to Bhopal to witness the horror of the tragedy that had left a trail of deaths of poor jhuggi-dwellers in the colonies in the vicinity of the factory who did not know what had hit them.
Volumes have been written about the tragedy since. Warren Anderson who was the owner of he Union Carbide has also died two months back and the victims are still fighting for justice and compensation even as deformed children continue to be born as a result of the deadly Methyl Isocynate they had inhaled.
I am not repeating the legal or scientific fight that is on for 30 years.But I would like to ask some pertinent questions because the fear of death brought out the worst of human nature on that fateful night.
The scene of the hospitals in Bhopal for the next few days continues to haunt me even today as panicked residents of the city who had run miles and miles trampling over children or their elders as an unknown gas entered their nostrils in the night rushed back frantically searching for their dead relatives the next day.
It is all very patriotic to blame an enemy sitting abroad (Warren Anderson in this case) for all the mistakes but did the Indian authorities fulfil their responsibilities?
Did any of the Indian officials of Union Carbide conduct a mock drill in the colonies surrounding the factory in case the lethal gas leaked out either by design or accident. Had they done so people would not have panicked the way they did when the gas leaked out on the night of December 3.
Even the highest officials of the MP government seem to have been blissfully ignorant of the nature of the gas. The biggest proof of this is that even then Chief Minister Arjun Singh and his other ministers reportedly left the city in the middle of the night when they got news of the gas leak leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Later Singh denied the charge but he cannot be given a benefit of doubt.
The then Congress government like all other governments is culpable in this tragedy for creating the Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi colonies in the vicinity of the Union carbide even though the government had been warned not to create any habitation within a certain radius.
On that fateful night all the officials present at the Bhopal Railway Station lost their lives because the station also fell within that vicinity. There is a memorial at the station reminding visitors of their sacrifice.
Ironically their sacrifice in a way saved thousands of lives. For about four hours not a single train passed through Bhopal because there was no one to give a signal to the trains.
My question about the culpability remains relevant. Unauthorised jhuggis come up due to the connivance of local leaders for their vote banks. But what about railway stations?
There are charges that the actual victims have not been given their compensation till now. The greed of the callous Bhopal authorities had started surfacing within days of tragedy. Even I had been offered a certificate of victim by one of my brothers- in- law in Bhopal a month after the December disaster.
But who cares?
By: Amitabh Srivastava
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