This Article is From Jun 14, 2010

Bhopal disaster: The ignored warnings

New Delhi:
Twenty six years after the world's worst industrial disaster, questions are being raised about the negligence that led to the catastrophe - how rules were changed and safety was completely ignored by the Union Carbide management.

For three years, Bhopal journalist Rajkumar Keswani kept warning the administration that the Union Carbide plant was unsafe. His article, 'Bhopal sitting on a volcano', published just months before the tragedy, and warning letters to the then Chief Minister Arjun Singh were ignored.

In fact Arjun Singh assured the Assembly that he personally inspected the Carbide plant and nothing was wrong.

But clearly that was not the case.

Some facts below show how repeated warnings about safety were ignored ahead of the disaster and how the tragedy could have been averted:

In 1979, zonal regulations in Bhopal were changed so that Carbide could set up a plant, manufacturing deadly pesticides in the heart of the city's most densely populated areas.

In December, 1981, a gas leak at the Union Carbide plant killed one worker.

In January 1982, another gas leak led to 25 workers being hospitalized. Workers protested that there was design defect in the plant that made it unsafe but the protests were ignored.

Two years later, Union Carbide sent its US experts to do an audit. The team noticed leaking tanks, 11 of which were in the MIC unit where the leak occurred.

In September 1982, UCIL de-linked the alarm from the siren warning system so that only their employees would be warned and not neighbouring residents.

A year later, another leak from the plant in which 100 residents had to be hospitalized.

March 4, 1983, Bhopal lawyer Shahnawaz Khan served a legal notice on UCIL

April 29, 1983,
in a written reply, UCIL's Works Manager denied the allegations as baseless.

Between 1983 & 1984, the safety manuals were re-written to permit among other things switching off the units that cooled the MIC gas and prevent chemical reactions.

December 3, 1984, gas leaks with no warning given to the residents of the leak or what precautions to take.

Clearly Union Carbide knew of these dangers, their own employees had been protesting. But what was worse was the fact that the government ignored such serious warnings.

Keswani and thousands of others in Bhopal have the same view. "I have published a report in the state as to how many of the relatives of the politicians and bureaucrats were employed by the Carbide and apart from that, the Union Carbide had a beautiful guesthouse which was being used by several people like Mr. Arjun Singh, Mr Madhav Rao Scindia. At one instance the Congress party held a convention in Bhopal and used it as a place of stay for several Ministers. That only shows what kind of clout they had," he said.

"Those were the times when a multinational company coming to India was greeted with open arms, they were given all kinds of concessions and treated like demi-gods. There was absolutely no question of anybody going against a powerful corporation like Union Carbide. Union carbide was one of the biggest chemical companies in the world," he added.