In the history of the world, this incident was considered one of the worst industrial disaster. On that tragic night, thousands of people lost their lives, and many are still suffering now. Methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leakage from the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) facility was to blame for the event. This article will discuss about the details about the December 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy are covered in this article. It includes everything, from the incident to how it affected people and the environment. Let’s get started!
What happened in Bhopal Gas Tragedy?
On December 3-4, 1984, at around midnight, MIC gas was released from the factory and mixed with the fresh air in Bhopal. Within a few minutes of breathing in the deadly gas, people began to feel uncomfortable, started vomiting, had breathing difficulties, and began to die. Animals also endured suffering and even died, in addition to humans.
Many people were taken urgently to the hospital, although no medical professional knew the precise cause of death. Nobody was aware of the MIC breach. They didn't realise that MIC gas was leaking; they only suspected that something was leaking. So many lives were lost because doctors could not treat patients effectively without the accident's precise cause.
According to reports, more than 6 lac individuals suffered severe injuries, and about 3000 people died. The survivors endured severe consequences in addition to chronic respiratory issues. Even babies who were born during that period had some health problems.
Points to be noted
- The pesticide carbaryl, known by its chemical name 1-naphthyl methylcarbamate, was produced by UCIL under the trade name Sevin.
- The American corporation Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the parent company of UCIL and holding a majority share, discovered the existence of carbaryl. Indian banks and the general public both possessed minorities of the shares.
- Using methyl isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediary, UCIL produced carbaryl. Although there are other ways to make the final product, they are more expensive.
- MIC is a highly poisonous substance that harms human health.
Causes of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
1. UCIL has been blamed for the lack of proper safety norms and maintenance.
2. Out of the three tanks where MIC was stored, the leak occurred due to an overload of gas. While the limit of the tank was 30, it held 42 tons of MIC.
3. An exothermic reaction was believed to be caused because water entered the tank, and when the pressure increased, the gas started venting out.
4. After this, people began experiencing the toxin's effects within a few hours.
5. A refrigeration system, a flare tower, and a vent gas scrubber were three safety mechanisms at the factory that, if they had been operating correctly, may have prevented the catastrophe. The gas scrubber, switched off then, was too tiny to handle a disaster of this magnitude. The refrigeration system was intended to cool the MIC tank; the flare tower was designed to burn the leaking MIC.
6. About 40 metric tonnes of MIC were discarded into the environment within two hours.
7. Around 1:00 AM, the Bhopal police were notified of the leak. Most people who came into contact with the gas or went outside to investigate the noise were the first to learn about the leak. The impact of the disaster would have been lessened if they had received a prompt warning to seek shelter.
Impacts of Bhopal Gas Tragedy
1. Starting effects:
b) Stomach pain
e) Eye irritation
f) Burning sensation in the respiratory part of the body
2. Thousands of individuals had died by the morning of December 3rd from choking, pulmonary oedema, and reflexogenic circulatory collapse. Autopsies revealed that in addition to the lungs, the brains, kidneys, and liver of the deceased were also impacted.
3. Neonatal mortality increased by 200%, while the stillbirth rate increased by 300%.
4. In Bhopal, there were both mass funerals and cremations.
5. A significant number of animal carcasses were observed nearby, indicating that flora and fauna had also been adversely affected. Within a few days, the trees turned bare. Food supply became scarce as a result of contamination concerns. Fishing was not allowed either.
6. At least 200,000 kids were exposed to the gas and were especially sensitive due to their small height.
7. The medical staff was undertrained to deal with MIC exposure, and hospitals and clinics were overrun with patients.
8. The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act, passed by the Indian government in March 1985, provided the government with the authority to represent all disaster victims, whether they were residents of India or not.
9. In the US federal court, lawsuits against UCC have been filed. In one case, the judge recommended that UCC give the victims between $5 million and $10 million. UCC consented to pay $5,000,000. However, the Indian government rejected this offer and asserted a claim for $3.3 billion.
10. 1989 saw the completion of an out-of-court settlement in which UCC agreed to pay $470 million in damages and did so immediately.
Absolute liability is one of the essential questions that the Bhopal Gas tragedy stirs up. The case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India involved a detailed discussion of this subject. According to the principle of absolute liability, if an enterprise engages in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry and any harm results as a result of such activity, the enterprise is liable to compensate for such harm; it should not be an acceptable defence for the enterprise to claim that it took all reasonable precautions and that the damage occurred without any negligence on its part. The safe design in these sectors does not limit protection to the most common routine of incidents. Instead, one should try to foresee the worst that could occur, even if it is infrequent, and take precautions to prevent it, confine it, and ensure that there is no way for that to ever be possible.
This is the rule of absolute liability, and it is possible to establish liability even in the absence of any fault on the accused's side. Even the defences available under strict liability would not apply in situations of absolute liability. Therefore, even if the event were unlikely, responsibility would still be determined. Arguments that carrying out such hazardous conduct was not the accident's direct or indirect cause, by an Act of God, or by some outside force. Responsibility would still fall on the Company even if it had taken extraordinary measures to prevent such occurrences. The Bhopal Gas Disaster and the Oleum Gas Leak case served as a wake-up call, leading to the development of the absolute liability principle in India.
Recently, on 20th September 2022, a plea was made to the supreme court to enhance the compensation. It was argued that the compensation was based on “assumptions of truth” which were “unrelated to realities”. The government is unsure about this decision, so that they will hear the matter again.
The incident is still regarded as the worst industrial catastrophe ever. The government should carefully scrutinise and control these companies to stop future occurrences of such incidents. They should be constantly watched, and such industries should have their operations examined at least once every six months. Any type of maintenance on any machinery or equipment should be done right away. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that everything runs smoothly.