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Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Vizag Gas Leak : Overlooking safety or mere accident?

Updated: Aug 10

The disastrous Vizag Gas Tragedy

Tragedy’, a term which makes our hearts sink every time it is heard. India’s worst industrial tragedy was everything that one could imagine out of thriller books, only difference being that there was no one who could save the people, the animals and prevent all the ghastly effects that followed. It has been more than 35 years of this horrific disaster, and yet, the impacts can be seen even today. According to a study conducted by Greenpeace, the groundwater continued to contaminate for a long time and the continued contamination of the groundwater and soil present a serious health threat not only to those exposed then but also to future generations.

What Happened?

Bhopal gas tragedy is known as world’s worst industrial disaster and India’s first major industrial disaster where methyl isocyanate (MIC) spilt out from Union Carbide India Ltd’s (UCIL’s) pesticide factory turned the city of Bhopal into a colossal gas chamber. At least 30 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas escaped from the plant, causing more than 15,000 casualities and affecting over 600,000 workers.

Vizag gas leak occurred recently in May 2020 where toxic styrene gas leaked from the LG Polymers chemical plant in Vishakhapatnam and killed 12 people, caused the hospitalisation of hundreds.

Analyzing the similarities

Apart from being a disaster whose effects could be seen on the residents for a long time, Bhopal gas disaster has been extremely detrimental to flora, fauna and environment of the city. The most traumatizing effects were over livestock that people relied on for food. The MIC was absorbed into local rivers which resulted in the water being undrinkable and poisoning the fish, further leading to poisoning all the levels of the food chain, from animals to humans and even scavengers.

Considering the similarities between both disasters, it can be seen that there was sheer negligence on the part of officials. Firstly, both plants were around residential areas – which are not supposed to be sites for plants of hazardous industries. Even though LG Polymers plant cannot be termed prima facie to be hazardous industry, but the gases which they stored were hazardous and dangerous if escaped. Secondly, both disasters took place when the plant had been shut down for some time and it was scheduled for restart. In case of Union Carbide, the plant was shut down due to heavy losses being incurred by the company while in case of LG Polymers the plant was scheduled for restart after the lockdown. Thirdly, and most importantly, the safety of the residents around the plants was overlooked by storing dangerous chemicals and gasses which could have endangered lives of humans and animals. Lastly, in neither of the cases the residents were explained evacuation in case of gas leakage which lead to high mortality. One must also not overlook the death of the cattle in those nearby villages as well as think about the impact of the gas on the vegetation in the 3 km radius. Although human deaths were not high in the Vizag Gas leak, the most affected areas were the surrounding villages, where the most vulnerable age groups i.e. elders and children were affected by this.

Aftermath

A lot of studies discuss about the legal aftermath of the tragedy, changes in industries and their requirements and its effect on the victims. However, not many studies look much in to the environmental aftermath and the most important. Although the companies faced legal liability and were asked to pay compensation to those who suffered, the primary thing which lacked in both cases was accountability. A lot of studies show that Bhopal Gas Tragedy was a result of overlooking by the central and the state governments, but in reality, no one publicly took the accountability of a ghastly disaster which left its effects for generations to come. Neither Union Carbide, nor the Government took the accountability of the disaster, and the only ones who were blamed were the employees – those who come at the last level of accountability. It was made to be believed that the employees were incapable to handle the situation, but lack of training to handle such situations point fingers towards whom?

In case of Vizag Gas Leak also, the National Green Tribunal ordered to pay an initial compensation, and an apology was also issued by the LG Polymers, but no one publically took the accountability of the situation over themselves. On June 3, the NGT held that the legal principle of ‘Absolute Liability’ applies and LG Polymers was held liable. The NGT also asked Ministry of Environment and Forests to constitute a Committee to suggest ways and means to check and prevent violation of environmental norms and preventing any such recurrence in the future.

If you think that it all ends here with the Government working on it, you are WRONG! We have made the mistake in the past during the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the effect of which is still seen in all the levels of food chain. So step up, and do your share for the environment, or one day, when you will end up in the midst of a disaster, no one will be left to help you.

Conclusion

Humans can be compensated for loss of their life or for loss of property, but the most overlooked stakeholder here is environment. Monetary compensation is not the only way to compensate for the environmental issues caused by such incidents. In fact, such mode of compensation gives them a free hand as they think that they can do anything to our planet and get away with it by paying some money as compensation because they have enough money to pay, but no morals to show some accountability towards their own planet.


Hence, such companies should also be given certain amount of environmental service and should be asked to take responsibility of rare flora and fauna and look after them. Monetary compensation for them should be reduced for them to understand the consequences of their actions on Mother Earth.


Author:

Sannidhi Buch


Author’s Corner:

An artsy person who likes drawing, dancing, singing and playing instruments and a law student because of inherent liking towards arguments.

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