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Court holds govt, UC plant owner responsible for Bhopal tragedy

Source: PTI
June 11, 2010 17:35 IST
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The trial court in the Bhopal gas tragedy case has held the owners of the Union Carbide pesticide plant, the Indian government and 'to some extent' the government of Madhya Pradesh responsible for the magnitude of the disaster.

"The problem was worsened by the plant's location near a densely populated area, non-existent catastrophe plans and shortcomings in health care and socio-economic rehabilitation," said the judgment delivered by Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari on June 7 in Bhopal

In the worst industrial disaster in the world, 15,000 people had died in a poisonous gas leak on the night of December 2, 1984.

"Analysis shows that the parties responsible for the magnitude of the disaster are the two owners, (their US-based parent company) Union Carbide Corporation and the government of India and to some extent the government of Madhya Pradesh," it said.

It was 'Tank No 610', containing 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate, which spewed the deadly gas into the lungs of thousands of sleeping people on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, just a month before UCIL's license to produce MIC-based pesticides was to expire.

According to the judgment, the lethal MIC along with phosgene and chloroform was stored for the manufacture of pesticides at the Union Carbide India Limited plant in Bhopal under the brand name of 'Sevin' and 'Temik'.

Also, there were two other tanks -- 611 and 619 -- besides 610 for the purpose of storing the poisonous MIC in liquid form in the plant, located close to a densely populated area.

Initially, the UCIL got a licence from the government of India for manufacturing 5,000 tonnes of MIC-based pesticides in collaboration with Union Carbide Corporation, USA from 1975-1982, on the condition that it should be free from air, water and soil pollution.

However in 1982, they applied for the renewal of the licence, following which the Centre granted permission to manufacture MIC-based pesticides till January 1985, a month after the tragedy struck.

On that fateful night, MIC began leaking from 'Tank 610' between 12-12.45 am, when large amounts of water entered the tank. The resulting exothermic reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to over 200 degree Celsius, raising the pressure to a level it could not withstand, that led to the release of huge quantities of toxic gases into the atmosphere.

It is known that workers cleaned the pipelines with water but they were not told by the supervisor to add a slip-blind water isolation plate.

The leak from 'Tank 610', which stored MIC, was of an unprecedented nature and had continuing tragic and disastrous effects on human beings and animals.

On December 2, during the night shift, some operators noticed the leakage of water and gas from the MIC structure, following which they informed the control room. The operator there saw the pressure had gone up in the tank.

Though the factory was provided with a refrigeration system to maintain the temperature of MIC in the tank, it was reportedly not functioning, which finally led to the world's biggest industrial disaster in 1984, filling the streets of Bhopal with thousands of dead humans and animals.

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