Revisiting the Bhopal Tragedy

Written by  //  September 6, 2010  //  National Politics  //  6 Comments

The recent uproar over the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the subsequent introspection has focussed exclusively on the short-comings of our politicians and judiciary. While the opposition has been baying for the blood of the ruling government and the Gandhi family, the ruling government has been keen to lay the blame on the judiciary. To add fuel to the fire the NGO and the media are running around from pillar to post like headless chickens accusing the entire world of a tragic conspiracy. At the end of the day it is difficult to deny that there has been a complete lack of focus in this witchunt of a debate on exactly what went wrong and more importantly on exactly how we are going to avoid another such tragedy.

Was it only those 7 convicted employees of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) who can be held accountable for the miserable deaths of thousands of Bhopalis? Why weren’t any babus of the bureaucracy held accountable for that disaster?

After all, under the Insecticides Act, 1968, the bureaucracy had a key role to play in ensuring the implementation of safety standards in the UCIL plant.

The Insecticide Act, 1968 is a legislation which regulates the manufacture, import, transport and storage of all insecticides in India. This legislation provides for an elaborate mechanism to regulate the insecticide industry, right from carrying out safety and efficacy studies on each and every insecticide to giving approvals for the manufacture and import of the same. The Act provides for a Central Insecticide Board, a Central Insecticide Laboratory, Insecticide Analysts, Insecticide Inspectors, all of whom are required to regulate the insecticide industry across the country. An important component of their task is to inspect and regulate storage facilities and ensure that the industry is storing insecticides as per the guidelines formulated by the Central Insecticide Board. The Insecticide Inspectors have been given relatively sweeping powers to enter and inspect even private industry. The reason for this was most probably the concerns over safety.

Given that UCIL’s plant was manufacturing an insecticide it would have fallen within the purview of the Insecticide Act, 1968 meaning that the Central Government had a role in regulating the plant. The question therefore is why has the national debate not focussed on the gross negligence and incompetence of the Insecticide Inspectors who were in charge of regulating UCIL’s plant and responsible for protecting us from such a disaster. The failure in Bhopal was not only of UCIL’s but also the Government of India. If the Central Government and the NGOs are keen on stretching the concept of vicarious criminal liability to entrap Warren Anderson the CEO pf UCIL’s parent company, then in that case they should definitely hold the bureaucracy under the Insecticide Act, 1968 liable for criminal negligence.

The bigger question however is whether we have taken the steps to ensure that the Bhopal Gas Tragedy does not repeat itself. We have one of the biggest agro-chemical industries in the world and instead of the debate focusing, on how better to hold the bureaucracy accountable for the regulation of such a dangerous industry, the squawking anchors on our national television channels are more interested in extraditing Warren Anderson who at last count was 93 years old.

6 Comments on "Revisiting the Bhopal Tragedy"

  1. eastlandgrl October 18, 2010 at 10:41 am ·

    interesting, thanks

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