THIS weekend is the 25th anniversary of the night in Bhopal, India, when 8'000 people died from a lethal gas that escaped from a nearby pesticides factory owned by the American company Union Carbide. Over the years 17'000 more people have died from the after-effects of the gas and many of those who live in the area of the now derelict plant have been found to be still drinking seriously contaminated water; many children have been born with congenital defects and overall more than 100'000 people remain seriously ill. Before the disaster struck it was well-known locally that the Union Carbide plant was in a poor condition and that safety precautions were non-existent. In 1982 a local Indian journalist wrote a series of articles, predicting that It will take just an hour, at most an hour-and-a-half, for every one of us to die.
Union Carbide (now part of Dow Chemical) was pressed into paying inadequate compensation to some survivors but has done nothing to demolish or clean the site. The record of the Indian local and national governments has been no better, as they prefer to fight legal battles over responsibility and avoid taking action to gather evidence of Union Carbide's culpability. Bhopal has been called the worst industrial accident in history and yet 25 years later its killing properties remain. How can this be?