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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 16:48 GMT
Bhopal: Could it happen again?
On 3 December, 1984 the world's worst industrial accident happened when toxic gas leaked from a chemical plant over the densely populated Indian city of Bhopal.

Disused Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal
Twenty years on, Bhopal's survivors are still living with the consequences

Many thousands were killed and the death toll continues to rise with at least 15,000 dead. And 20 years on, tens of thousands still suffer serious symptoms from contact with the gas.

After the accident Union Carbide accepted "moral responsibility" for the disaster but even today arguments continue about contamination of the local environment and water supply.

Has the world turned its back on the victims of Bhopal? And could an industrial disaster on this scale happen again?

Thank you for your comments. This page is now closed.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

Thank you for facilitating watching the BBC programme, One Night in Bhopal, in Hindi. This allowed the elders of Indian origin to get the proper understanding of the disaster. We went to Bhopal three years ago but the atmosphere in the city was depressing. The government owned hotels for the reasonable people were in a disgusting state. The infra structure was the worst I have come across in my 60 year life.
Suresh Chandarana, UK

This is just another example of how a greed-driven Western corporation walks into a Third World nation exploiting its riches and endangering the lives of its civilians. Sadly, many governments are corporate driven, therefore we will never see true justice.
Ned Jones, East Anglia

I remember I was nine years old in India when this tragedy happened and, like many other failures of a socialist government in India over decades, this was also brushed under the carpet for obvious reasons. I welcome efforts from Amnesty and other organisations to bring light to this issue 20 years on, but, like many Indians who have lived through the period, feel this is too little too late and appears more like gimmick than real effort.

In the end, the US Government owes no obligation to Indian citizens but the Indian Government does
Prabhat Misra, UK
When world media failed to cover this story at the time of the tragedy, efforts to weave stories out of hearsay and speculation 20 years on appears only opportunistic and a sad attempt to glorify a tragedy.

Let us look at realities today. I don't think 20 years on that the people of Bhopal have a legal recourse to compensation and equitable relief purely because the remaining shreds of evidence itself are so tainted that neither in India nor in the US stand a chance in a court of law to indict any individual or corporation.

The only alternative route is to apply moral pressure on the US and the Indian Government to ensure that some form of a tangible compromise is reached with residents of this city. In the end, the US Government owes no obligation to Indian citizens but the Indian Government does.
Prabhat Misra, UK

When one considers the ease that "victims" of minor motoring accidents etc, collect a few thousand pounds for so-called "injuries" in the UK/US, from the large "institutions" of course. I cannot understand why, when truly deserving recipients of compensation, a la the Bhopal disaster received 300 or so. Despite the suffering being real and of considerable significance, loved ones dead and so on. Perhaps we still haven't learnt that humans are all equal - India/UK/US wherever. So come on Union Carbide and your "big boy" insurers, pay up! .
John Fergus, Burnley

If Bhopal were a major financial contributor to the world, I'm sure nothing would be spared in helping the victims of this terrible accident. Unfortunately the country's poor economy means its people are left to suffer and die. This is the rotten fruit of industrial capitalism.
Rich, UK

Can anyone point out why the CEO of Enron is standing a court trial in USA. A trial for what happens to be a financial collapse, and why the then CEO of Union Carbide does not stand trial for the Bhopal gas tragedy, even though thousands of people were killed? A humanity catastrophe. Is it because it happened in India?
Dipal Thakker, London, UK

Just watching your programme on Bhopal on BBC One. Whatever mythical entities we invent to represent evil are no match for what the human race is capable of in its selfishness. This is absolutely heartbreaking.
Andy Walker, UK

I am from Bhopal. My parents and a number of relatives and friends were in Bhopal on the night of the disaster. Some of them also helped evacuate people from the worst affected areas. Some of my friends have suffered the effects of the gas poisoning and continue to be treated for their condition.

The Union Carbide disaster was waiting to happen.

Both the company owners and Indian Government are equally responsible. What is needed today is a regulation that sees to the cleaning up of the factory site and regular medical check ups and treatment of those who were affected by the disaster.

In recent years, after the compensation payments began, the residents of inner city Bhopal are now said to have found "sudden wealth" (as was reported in a local newspaper some time ago) which has increased their "spending power". These payments are minuscule when converted into s, but we are talking of people whose monthly income has jumped from 10 to 40/50.

Although a large number of people (as well as street animals) died that night and a number were affected, there had been a migration of rural poor from adjacent villages to occupy the vacant huts to claim the compensation.

I just hope that someone sees to it that compensation is paid to those who need it and does not go to the free-riders.
Vibha Joshi, Oxford

While billions are spent avenging September 11, Bhopal is swept under the carpet. Where is the justice that the US is so proud of?
Yvette, Kuwait

We may not know who was ultimately responsible for the Bhopal disaster, but we know who wasn't, and that is the thousands upon thousands who suffered and are still suffering. It is monumentally callous to suggest otherwise. The governments concerned should pull their finger out and do something responsible for the victims, regardless of who was at fault.
Andrew Marshall, Cambridge

Why have the United States not extradited Warren Anderson, to stand trial in India? Or is it a case that it's one rule for the Americans and another for the rest of the world.
David Holder, Aldershot, Hampshire

I'm no apologist for the chemical industry, but I find it disturbing that you don't mention the results of Union Carbide's investigation that showed serious irregularities in the condition of the plant and the logs after the accident. Isn't one of the working theories that the leak was caused by sabotage?
Paul Zaremba, Chicago

This is proof that big corporations can get away with whatever they want.
Tony, Bristol

A severe chemical accident like Bhopal could easily happen again. A lot of chemical manufacturing operations are being based in low to middle income countries. In these regions there remains a risk that environmental and safety standards are not robust or effectively monitored.

The actual costs of the accident needs to be re-evaluated in light of ongoing pollution and health damage.
Milla, UK
I think the core controls to prevent such accidents and to compensate the Bhopal victims needs political and government initiative. Dow claims it is 'free' of all obligations and responsibility of its subsidiary's actions. I think this urgently needs to be further examined.

The complications of the illnesses suffered by the Bhopal victims continue to emerge and new claims should be given a hearing. The actual costs of the accident needs to be re-evaluated in light of ongoing pollution and health damage.
Milla, UK

First of all I have no attachment to Union Carbide. However it is never pointed out that the people who died, and those who still suffer, lived in an illegal township that sprang up around the plant. The Indian Government knew there was a safety risk and banned such developments as a safety measure, but the law was never enforced.

How different things might have been if houses had been built miles away, instead of right up to the plant perimeter fence. The Indian Government is responsible for that, plus the people who ignored the laws. Simply claiming ignorance is no defence. Everyone knew there was a danger.

But of course people only want to blame Union Carbide for the simple reason they have deep pockets and can be taken to court. Obviously they have a responsibility, but it is shared with others who are also to blame, but this is never mentioned.
Mike Stollov, Seattle, USA

The Government of India and Madhya Pradesh should decontaminate/clean up the Bhopal site, undertake detailed assessment of damage, ensure Dow/ UCC provide full compensation and information and provide adequate safe water/ healthcare, work with survivors' organisations and ensure ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) submits research reports.

The US Government should do everything possible to ensure redress, co-operate with Indian Government. Dow/ UCC should decontaminate Bhopal site, co-operate and make public all information, appear in Bhopal courts and provide full reparation, compensation to victims.

The UN Commission on Human Rights should adopt universally recognised HR standards for business, play a leading role making transnational corporation responsible, and offer unconditional technical assistance for justice to Bhopal victims.
Raj Doctor, National Director - Amnesty International India



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