Government Responsibility for Bhopal Gas Tragedy Author(s): Radhika Ramaseshan Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol

. 19, No. 50 (Dec. 15, 1984), pp. 2109-2110 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4373867 . Accessed: 08/04/2013 10:14
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USA. 1984. if not more what properties the organisation will use for establishedthe culpabilityof Union Carbide for detailed. IndustrialSafety and Health. Phosgene COCL2 4-0-2 1. the third to stability.FROM OUR CORRESPONDENTS The purpose of mentioning the safety measures adopted by Bayer is to highlight the vital role governmentsas regulatoryand supervisory bodies can play in ensuringa minimum of compatibility between the profit-oriented goals of Radhika Ramaseshan MNCs. which is then thermallydecomposed to produce MIC. it is specious. no base flanges. the Bayer tial quarters for the Board's employees and a bide (India) and the Union Carbide Corporaprocess involves no phosgene or chlorine and shanty colony called Chandwad which had tion. Belgium. what manufacturingprocesses it will employ and in what maximum to overlook the role of the government.s reproduced from gm/ cm the OperatingManual (Part II) of the company. At every stage since the plant but also to those living around the plant. thereby eliminating the possiUnion Carbide's MIC plant has had a poor The two basic raw materials used by Union bility of leakages. The Carbide are monomethylamine (MMA) and temperature and pressure guages which auto. An agreement to set not take place under pressure. for making MIC. not Chief Minister Arjun Singh's repeated asser. the safety demands of such THE mass of technical detail thrown up by all subsequently when Union Carbide applied for technologies and the interestsof the people.661 Colourless gas mation to evaluate the potential hazards the at ambient plant posed is clear from the fact that the State temperature 10 Electricity Board is in possession of all the requisite documents which were handed over to Note: * Calculated on a descending scale of 4 to 0. methyl diately trigger off an alarm system. cidents.the Institute of Education and a colony set up after the licence was obtained. The decided to put up on the same site a plant for Antwerp. Apart from these TABLE two substances. was applied for.ment of Madhya Pradesh. as only limited come up in the vicinity of the Bhopal Textile to the terms of which the principals would inis permitted. 8 Apr 2013 10:14:55 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . This area was the centre of commercial storage vest an amount of $ 20 million for setting up nes of MIC are stored in four tanks which have and trading activities in the city.243. also pro. the MIC plant. a power house of the its parent firm in the US. checks on the plant. In a nutshell. when the licence baryl) in Bhopal was granted in 1969. and by the Bhopal Development Authority. . namely. MMA and phosgene matically control inconsistencies and imme. The process does tained the railwaycolony. according the MIC is directly processed. explanations and theories an enhancement of power supply. Pradesh for that matter-cannot explain away its failure to study these aspects of the Union granted the licence. They of phosgene in the plant was increasingly threatening the security of workers inside the ture of pesticides. On average. data.Bhopal railwaystation was only three kms from manufacturing methyl isocyanate. According to an article by Raj Kumar inception of the plant the government has been the possible consequences of these toxic subfully aware of the noxious character of the stances for people's health and the available Keswani in Jansatta of June 16. 2109 Government Responsibility for Bhopal Gas Tragedy This content downloaded from 203. governphosgene. What it lacked was the will should also have closely studied the safety plant and those in the bastis around the plant". The Induscluding workers. it is the emanating from official and private quarters tries Department of the state government must West German government which has stipulated in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy has also have been given the same. that it could not control the subsequentmushroomingof bastis near named Sevin (the generic name of which is Car. In 1969 itself. The charactat 200C ance eristics of these materials.38 Colourless gas 0. It is important. Shortly MIC. by implication. however. This exposes the hypocrisy of the mass killing. The Government basic as this: the plant would not have come and the various aspects of its functioning.814 Colourless gas 50 characterof the materials.of these things was done before the licence for land' and. The tanks are equipped with safety record almost from its inception. another multinational. With of India-and the government of Madhya up in the first place had the government not the hazard ratings spelt out with such clarity.the plant and the area around the station conthe pesticide Sevin. Following the MP Electricity Board as well as some residenup an MIC plant was reached by Union Carstandardsset up by WestGerman law.manufactureof MIC. the other ingredients used in Chemical Formula Hazard Liquid Physical TLV various stages of the production of MIC are Rating* Density Appear(ppm) carbonmonoxide and chloroform. the company duces MIC in Dormagen. and the intent to come down strongly on Union mechanisms stipulated in the plant of the Carbide. the sophisticatedtechnologies employed to maximise profits. Bayer. inthe speculation. on November 13. are given in the Table. The tions at press conferences after the tragedy that issue boils down to something as simple and the government would now "study" the plant quantities MIC can be stored. only 10 ton. 1973. the base for mediates. In the case of Bayer.Director. for manufacture of galows around the site of the plant as well as governmentof Shyama Charan Shukla. West Germany. rather than import it from carbonate.49 Colourless liquid 25 MIC (highly ahead and granted the licence to set up the inflamable) CH3NCO 4-4-3 0. demelthyl urea and diphenyl. The first item in the scale relates to health. it perfunctorily the first time and every time the second to fire. there were at least 50 bunMadhya Pradesh was under the Congress(l) less lethal and hazardous. ostensibly to conserve foreign exchange.setting up the plant was issued.the governmentwent Chloroform CHCL3 3-0-1 1. The government cannot it would have been the obvious thing for the Carbide plant on the plea that it lacks the calim that it did not have the sort of data which authorities to have probed deeply into the resources and knowhow to evaluate such would have required it to enforce stringent potential danger not only to the workersin the technical matters.960 Colourless liquid 0.21 on Mon. parent company in the US and ensured their The government's argument that the Union The licence for setting up the Union Carbide replication in the Bhopal plant.01 That the government had the necessary inforMMA CH3NH3 4-4-1 0. "the use materialsthe plant was using for the manufacremediesto counter their harmful effects. It uses non-toxic inter. which Union Carbide workers allege carbomoyl chloride. Carbon In spite of being apprised of the noxious monoxide CO 4-4-1 0.02 plant.110. Evidently none Carbide factory had been set up on 'barren plant for manufacture of the pesticide brand.Mill. has recorded six acare first converted into an intermediate. when It is not as if there is no alternative process.

Ambani-Executive Director 10. at the time of maintenance. Shri K. supply. storage. but no cases of victims seriously affected by the MIC leakage outside of the plant were recordedeither by the governmentor by private sources. The 'action' taken by the government after its inquiry into the accident once again comprised merely instructions to the management. if any: Reliance Textile Industries Limited. marketing or control of any goods/articles. a body corporate managed by the Board of Directors consisting of: 1. state the volume of activity in terms of usual measures such as value. but residentsof some bastis and colonies in the vicinity of the plant werewoken up by the siren. (ix) Cost of the project : Rs. liquid phosgene when he removed the breathing mask after completing his job. 1981.I IA or breathing apparatus.and (3) any person who has not been cleared by the supervisor should not be permitted to operate the system in MIC plant" NOTICE It is hereby notified for the information of the public that Reliance Textile Industries Limited proposes to make an application to the Central Government in the Department of Company Affairs. mentioned that one importantcriterionin determining TLV was the level of resistance to exposure of toxic substances which he added was conditioned among other things by nutritional intake. phosgene is consumed immediately after its manufacture and is never stored. Nariman Point. Once agam. the present tragedy. Ashraf Khan's death by phosgene inhalation gave the lie to this claim. the amount of toxic properties "likelyto be released"would be well within the prescribed TLV and would therefore not cause any long-term damage or result in deaths. To come back to the accident. Office: Maker Chamber No. therefore. for approval To the establishment of a new undertaking. Own Funds i) Internal cash accruals 1 75 iiI Issue of Right Debentures 235 B.S. according to the government's records. Dared : 1 2th Deteniber. (v) Location of the new undertaking: In Gujarat. Shri Rasiklal L. New Delhi. A mechanical seal of the phosgene pump failed. Department of Conipany Affairs. and an enquiry by the government. though there were no deaths on this occasion. resulting in the death of a maintenance department worker. second. Shri Ramesh U. This content downloaded from 203.%. The second major accident occurred on December 26. (2) managementshould ensurethat red tags should be properly tied. the government's report seeks to shift the blame for the accident on carelessness on the part of workers. The plant workers ran for shelter towards the surrounding bastis and the siren was sounded. and. the workersshould be instructed first to remove the bolts on the side away from him so that there is no chance of any left-over fluid spilling on the workers" and.is an under-count. This episode did not assume the cataclysmic proportions of the present tragedy because the MIC leakage could be plugged manually. within 14 days froni the date of publication of this iotice. etc. Second. the history of Bhopal might perhaps have taken an altogether different course. Ambani-Executive Ambani -Executive Director. (x) Scheme of finance. including managing/wholetime directors and manager. Vinod M. another major accident occurred on February 10. They complained of the same symptoms then as in the recent tragedy-breathlessness and irritation in the eyes. For RELIANCE TEXTILEINDUSTRIES LTD.C. as the safety rules stipulate. Lnereportof the enquiryconducted by the government does not mention whatledto the failure of the mechanical pump and. even in small quantities. turnover. The filrstaccident occurred. Shenoy-Nominee Director-G.C. 1982. Thus workers at Union Carbide said that the management had always advised them to "develop"resistance against the deleterious effects of toxic substanceslike MIC and phosgene by drinking six or seven glasses of milk a day and going in for a high-protein diet of fish and eggs. 1 969. in all its details. On hearing the siren. Nariman Point. whether the pipeline had been emptied of phosgene or not. distribution.000 turnover : Rs. the company had stored phosgene. Shri K. Ashraf Khan. Shri Dhirubhai H. Dr Hans Weill. phosgene production had completely stopped. in miflion) A.4 millioru (iii) Management structure of the applica-t organization indicating the names of the directors. The government's report in this case instructed the management to ensure that "while opening the flanges of pipes. On that night. Third Floor. the head of the productiondepartmenthad not certified. when naphtha stocks caught furefrom sparks from a welding rod. indicating the amounts to be raised from each source Means of Financing: (Rs. Gopal Rao 6. SftwJayantilal R.110. 1978. on November 24. Had the government only heeded this accident.R. Shri Mukesh D. Shah 7.when a flange joining the different pipelines gave way. almost instantly. that "the workersshould be properlyinstructedin the use of breathing apparatus". were seriously injuredin the accident. The report makes no mention of whether any follow-up action was taken to find out whether the government's "instructions" had been followed by the company. Borrowed Funds: Foreign exchange loan/deferred paymeit liabilities suppliers credit 280 690 Any person iriterested in the matter may make a representation in quadruplicate to the Secretary. Bhakta 8. Shastri Bhavan. The circumstances in which Ashraf Khan died leads this writer to infer that contraveningits ititernal safety regulations. Pai 9. Ambani-Joint Managing Director 3. By way of preventive action. Instead of finding out how liquid phosgene had managed to seep into the pipeline in the first place since (a) the MIC plant was shut down for maintenance. Brief particulars of the proposal are as under:(i) Name and address of the applicant : Reliance Textile Industries Limited. Director '12. once again the government. and (b) according to the company's rules. Shri Mansingh L. a professor of pulmonary medicine at the Tulane Medical School in New Orleans. intimating his views on the proposal and indicaitiig the nature of his interest therein. income. instead of pronouncing it as just another safety lapse recurrence of which could be prevented by sprucing up the machines or appointing skilled personnel. most importantly. Shri Ramnikial H. when Ashraf Khan began to work on the phosgene pipeline.C./. thus causing them to come in direct contact with phosgene. (viii) In case the proposal relates to the provisionoftany service. The workers alleged that it was this disregard for even basic safety procedures on the part of the head of the productiondcpartmentthat had caused Ashraf Khan's death. Not only workers. merelyinstructedthe managementto see to it that "some engineer [it does not even rhention that the engineer should be one skilled in supervision of a highly specialised operation like MIC production] should supervise the fitting of the seal" and "the seal should be tested by running the pump for some time and checked for leakages. 850 million. an operator in the MIC plant was opening a valve in one ofthe MIC pipelines. Twentyfive workers inhaled the phosgene and all of them had to be hospitalised. Bombay 400 021. 51 7. Government of India. He died a day later.I. The picture that emerges from conversations with some worker and from the government's report is that Ashraf Khan had opened the flanges of the pipeine for carrying out maintenance work and inhaled some amount of. Shri H. 1994. the government "instructed" the company to remove all sources of ignition from the piadimity of the raw material and to keep combustile stores at a safe distance from one another. Anibani Company Secretary Regd.to the machines which are not to be operated. Shri Anil 0.243. The accident which occurred on the night of October 5. 1982 anticipates. Managing Director 2. resulting in the leakage of phosgene. Maker Chamber IV. Bombay-400 021. workers of the other plant fled-theplace. (vii) In case the proposal relates to the production. The question this accident raised was this: what if the pressurehad built up to such an extent that the amount of MIC released could not be controlled manually? Four persons. New Delhi. The government's report in fact does not even mention that some residents around the plant had fled their houses in panic. all workersin the plant. The workers this writer met said that the invariable excuse given by the company wa4 that in case of unexpected mechanical failures. (iv) Indicate whether the proposal relates to the establishment of a new unit/division: New Undertaking. Meswani-Executive Director 11t. Shri Natvarlal H. since so far neither the company manuajs nor their medical consultants or doctors that this writer spoke to in Bhopal could explain on what basis the TLV had been evolved for the different toxic substances used by Union Carbide. : Not applicable. A little over a month after the death of Ashraf Khan. Ambani-Chairman . 3rd Floor. (vi) Capital Structure of the proposed undertaking : The proposed undertaking will be a unit of the applicant body corporate and there will not have a separate capital structure. {ii) Capital Structure of the applicant organization: (a) Rs. The instructions were: "(1) Proper procedure should be followed before the plant can be operated [these procedures presumably are the ones evolved by Union Carbide itself with no independent attempt by the government to check how fool-proof these procedures were and whether they were compatible with the'way in which the plant had bee'n designed]. According to the workers whom this writer met. absolving itself of the responsibility for a deeper probe or a stricter followup of the action Carbide was required to take to reducethe frequencyof accidents. indicated: i1) Names of goods/articles Mono Ethylene Glycol (2) Proposed LicenSed Capacity tonnes per annum (3) Estimated annual 40. 570 million. 8 Apr 2013 10:14:55 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the TLVconcept is itself highly questionable. such as on this occasion. if any". Hirway-Nominee Director-1. The deadly MIC was releasedin vaporous clouds.I 5.why none of the workers in theplanthadbeengivenfacemasks . 4. (b) Issued and Authorised Capital Subscribed Capital: Rs. under sub-section (21 of Section 22 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act.. 690 million.21 on Mon. IV.

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