30 years after Bhopal chemical leak, victims still await compensation

World Today

Indian Bhopal Gas disaster victim Barkat Ali (C) holds a photograph of his daughter who was killed in the disaster during a commemoration rally in Bhopal on December 1, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/ INDRANIL MUKHERJEE)

Thirty years ago, toxic gas leaked from a chemical plant in the Indian city of Bhopal killed thousands in what has been called the world’s worst industrial disaster. Today the victims are still waiting for justice. CCTV America’s Ritu Dixit reported this story from Washington, D.C.

On Dec. 2, 1984, tons of methyl isocyanate leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, the capital of the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, after water accidentally entered a storage tank. Toxic gases filled the air around the city, killing at least 4,000 people in their sleep, and another 11,000 since then.

“One of my daughters had blisters all over her body because of the gas, and my husband also has various problems, his neck and lungs have been damaged,” said Shila a victim of the gas leak who did not give her last name.

Seventeen different studies from the government and NGOs have shown that the affected area is up to 3-3.5 kilometers, or 1.9-2.2 miles, from the factory, said Satinath Sarangi, an activist for the rights of the Bhopal gas leak victims.

“There are chemicals that have caused all these problems, caused cancer, caused birth defects,” Sarangi said.

The pesticide plant was owned by the Union Carbide Corporation, an American company that today belongs to Dow Chemical Company. After taking ownership, Dow distanced itself from the disaster and refused any compensation to the victims.

The cause of the accident remains unclear, but activists blame incompetent management and lack of preventive maintenance. Civil and criminal cases were filed against Union Carbide and its CEO Warren Anderson. But, the factory had already negotiated a settlement of millions of dollars with the Indian government.

Anderson was charged with manslaughter by an Indian court but after reportedly paying the bail, he left the country soon after the disaster. Anderson died two months ago at his home in Florida.

“We are writing a letter to Obama highlighting the fact that the American government is responsible for this gas tragedy to a great extent. It is due to the American government that Anderson died without serving his sentence in jail,” Sarangi said.

Protests and strikes have been staged across India in a show of solidarity with the victims.

The Indian government recorded also only 2,000 deaths the night of the accident in 1984, another sore point for organizations fighting the court system. Thousands are still waiting for compensation demanding that the government disclose the correct number of deaths and injuries to the public.

30 years after Bhopal chemical leak, victims still await compensation

Thirty years ago, toxic gas leaked from a chemical plant in the Indian city of Bhopal killed thousands in what has been called the world's worst industrial disaster. Today the victims are still waiting for justice. CCTV America's Ritu Dixit reported this story from Washington, D.C.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.