38 years on, UK MPs drum up support for Bhopal gas tragedy victims
London, Nov 17: Labour MPs, led by Indian-origin MP Navendu Mishra, have called on the UK government to give political support to victims of Bhopal gas tragedy, by providing swift justice, medical care and right compensation.
"For the victims, their children and their families, whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the events on the evening of December 2, 1984, today is important because it should be the start of our country's contribution to their campaign for justice," Nevendu Mishra, Labour MP for Stockport, told the UK Parliament.
The 33-year-old MP urged the UK government to put pressure on Dow Chemicals, the parent company of Union Carbide, to accept the "polluter pays" principle, and take responsibility for remunerations.
Known as the greatest industrial disaster in history, the tragedy struck 38 years ago when over half-a-million people were exposed to 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas, following a leak at the Union Carbide chemicals factory in Bhopal.
It is estimated that 3,800 people were killed instantly, mostly from the population of poorer, informal settlements that surrounded the factory. Up to 10,000 people died in the first 72 hours of the leak, and 25,000 people died as a result of gas exposure, and 150,000 remain chronically ill, according to estimates.
Nearly 100,000 people have been exposed to contaminated water, and by 2002, Greenpeace reported that 150,000 victims were chronically ill with even then one person dying every two days. "The Bhopal gas disaster in India is history's worst industrial catastrophe where 25,000 people were killed or died later from the injuries... After 38 long years, rather than being betrayed and ignored, the victims and their families deserve justice, accountability, and proper compensation," said Shadow Rail Minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi at the Westminster Hall debate.
"Nearly 40 years on from the Bhopal disaster, Union Carbide (bought out by Dow) still refuses compensation to the community still suffering. This is a direct result of deeply entrenched colonialism, where brown lives matter so little," Kim Johnson, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, wrote in a tweet.
The survivors of the catastrophe have been fighting for rightful compensation and proper medical treatment for ailments caused by the leak.
Four months after the disaster, Union Carbide offered $7 million as relief after the government of India filed a lawsuit in a US court seeking $3 billion in damages. The company raised the offer to $350 millionn in 1986. In 1989, Union Carbide paid $470 million in a final settlement of claims, which the Indian Supreme Court ruled would end all civil and criminal proceedings, and it upheld the legality of the 1985 law.
"For what in reality are life changing injuries for 38 years that amounts to measly and unjust five pence per day. And I should note the victims were not consulted in the settlement discussions. And understandably, many felt cheated by this compensation," Mishra said.
"Dow Chemical Company, the parent company for Union Carbide has for too long evaded the responsibility to the victims and survivors," Mishra rued.
He added that even before the explosion, the factory had been dumping toxic waste on the site and in nearby solar evaporation points, poisoning the water supply and after cost cutting speed from managers.
Last month, the Indian government told the Supreme Court that "it is keen" to pursue its 12-year curative petition seeking more than Rs 7,500 crore more from Dow Chemicals, Union Carbide and others for deaths and injuries.
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