Why I Feel Guilty When I Think Of The Bhopal Toxic Gas Catastrophe
WHY I FEEL GUILTY WHEN I THINK OF THE BHOPAL TOXIC GASCATASTROPHEI was a year or so back asked about this tragedy and I found out that I knew nothing about it. So,with the help of the net, I tried to learn the main facts. But what I knew as an accident turned outto be a huge controversial conspiracy. I apologize to all of you who know more than me, in caseI have my facts wrong. Those of you like me, carry on reading will be my request Environmentalists have described the Bhopal Gas Tragedy as the worst chemical industrial accident ever in the history of mankind (it is no 2 after Chernobyl in the category of industrial accidents).1 In the night of 2-3 December 1984 while the people of Bhopal were in slumber, the toxic gas MIC (Methyl IsoCyanate) started leaking out from a storage tank. MIC being highly toxic started to be guided by the wind over the city and people started to die in respiratory convulsions. The mortality value was 2000 within the first 7 hours and increasing. Cemeteries and graveyards began to fill up, scenes like corpses piling up due to everybody of the family having died, mass funeral pyres, mass graves etc. were common. (Madhya Pradesh was one of the largeststates of India and has been now split into two states i.e. itself and Chattisgarh.) As time went,the rate of the dying abated and stopped. But taking everything including the aftermath intoconsideration, the final tally was 30,000 dead and 120,000 injured and/or suffering from variouscomplaints approximately. This killer gas originated from a storage tank in the city fringes of thepesticide factory of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), the Indian Subsidiary of UnionCarbide.The problem was compounded since UCIL officials refused or professed ignorance of the exactcomposition of the chemicals thereby forcing Indian Chemists, Scientists and Doctors to work inconditions of guesswork. At post mortems and from the stool and viscera of the seriouslyaffected, traces of 21 chemicals were found so the various probabilities of the composition of thegas was possible as per the laws of permutations, but which one…That was the million dollarquestion. No antidotes could be developed therefore and no one understandably volunteered tocarry out any research in this regard.1 Its stay at the top did not last long as in the same decade, the Chernobyl disaster took place,in the earlier USSR.
The pesticides plant today: Except for rust nothing has been movedorchanged in 27 years.The Killer Tank, which leakedTill this day nothing has been done by Union Carbide or Dow to cleanse the site of its toxicity.All the equipment is still there including the killer Tank
In 2010, representatives of a Delhi based technical consulting company found the presence oftoxins in different quantities in the lactose glands of new mothers who had been exposed to thegaseous fumesHowever, we will now stop and not describe the catastrophe in more detail lest we indulge intitillation or provocation and forget our main topic, which is the guilt or innocence of UnionCarbide in this court of Business Ethics and its chairman Mr. Warren Anderson. It will howeverbe of significance here to mention that Mr. Warren Anderson was arrested under different codesof the IPC (Indian Penal Code), released on bail and then jumping bail, fled away to the US. TheUS govt. then against an extradition request from an Indian Court, refused to extradite WarrenAnderson on the strength of the weakness and vagueness of the extradition treaty between Indiaand the US. Lawsuits are still going on today in the US.The FACTS as they were and STILL areTherefore, the facts that we have with us are stated as under: I. The Union Carbide Company, which was one of the biggest chemical companies of the world,has since been brought by another Chemical Heavy weight Dow Chemicals Inc. UCC decided that the Republic of India had plenty of potential for market growth in fertilizers and pesticides, since the Indian Economy was heavily based on agriculture, at that time. The company therefore took the decision to come to India, and set up its own plant in Bhopal, taking the advantage of cheap labor in India to sell its products at very competitive prices. UCC set up its own subsidiary in Indian called Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL). The factory was set up in the outskirts of Bhopal town and manufacture started. Within a few years, the subsidiary did very well and expanded by setting up more and more units. In 1985, UCIL had a turnover of 2000 million USD and profits of 38 million. The parent company owned 50.9 % of the company and the balance 49.1% was owned by the government of India. II. For the manufacture of its branded pesticides, the manufacturing process involved the creation and use of Methyl IsoCynate. This chemical is highly toxic and has a vapor temperature of 100oFarenheit. With such a low vapor temperature, it is essential that the chemical liquid is stored under refrigerated conditions. Somehow, about 1000 to 2000 gallons of water found its way into the MIC and there was a huge unwanted chemical reaction. This resulted in abnormal increase of pressure and temperature in the tank and finally the pressure of 180 psig forced the relief valve open (normal pressure 15 psig max) and MIC which by then had already vaporized escaped into the atmosphere for aburt 2 hours or 3 hours maximum(temperature 2000C estimated). III. The release of gaseous MIC poisoned and killed about 20,000 to 25,000 humans- adults, juveniles and babies and seriously affected another 120,000 people rendering them handicapped to a large extent blinded. These victims also faced the punishment of bearing mutants for another generation. Many women were rendered infertile with the destruction of the fallopian tubes. Leaving aside humans, about 20,000 livestock were also killed and a larger quantity was maimed. The water of that area is still highly toxic now. Evidence of toxicity has been found even in breast milk collected from new mothers, nursing their infants.
These were the facts which should have been analyzed in the context of ‘international businessethics” and the theories thereof but were never done.There is nothing in ethics that UCL is not guilty of.. If the question is to be asked of all socialscience experts in the world today, the author is sure that everyone will be of the same opinion. Here, we cite Appendix-I as a major source of evidence, which is an advertisement that appeared in all major publications of India at that time. Here-it is easily seen that the advertisement shows the company and the Govt of India as partners in the path of progress. UCIL is not mentioned anywhere in the advertisement. It is therefore apparent that the Indian Subsidiary was a different entity only on paper and was set up to avail of the tax benefits provided by the Indian Govt. and to circumvent the complexities, which will be involved if, Union Carbide enters into the agreement directly. Being the largest stake holder, Union Carbide could have been taken to task. But the Government of India was too busy in protecting itself and trying to escape from the quagmires of humiliation andembarrassment, in front of the world community.How could the incident happen? This is a valid question. UCC just shrugs its massive shouldersand says that the accountability is UCIL not UCC which is rubbish. If you sell guns to someone,it is your duty to show him how to operate it. You point out to him the stock and the nozzle andtell him that he should hold the stock and point the barrel to what he wants to shoot or he mayhurt himself fatally-if he does it the other way around. UCC had sold the technology to UCIL onpaper and received payments towards the theintellectual cost periodically from UCIL-itssubsidiary. That, the skill of the indian operators was not sufficient to run the plant safely isnothing but humbug-for if that really was the case, UCC should have opted out of the technologytransfer or kept its on trained operators.UCC also claims that the Bhopal plant’s design is as per the design of its Virginia Plant design,which has had no accidents. Again-the truth is distorted here. A point to point comparison ofboth plants show the Bhopal plant lacked lots of safety systems. The operational process wasdifferent in certain areas. Maintenance was very high in one and almost negligible in the other’scase. Evacuation drills, Oxygen masks the entire lot was in Virginia. Bhopal had a barelyfunctioning speaker and amplifier. UCC or UCIL also has no defenses against the findings ofthird party inspectors. After the incident-it was found that
I. The refrigeration was nonfunctioning for 6 months. II. Temperature rise alarm had not been reset –this means that there will be no auto cut as the automation was disabled.III. The vent gas scrubber’s automation sensing did not work.IV. The flare tower, which burned whatever gas (if any) escaped the scrubber unit, was out of service. UCC definitely violated business ethics here. In 1985 and 86, the company’s share prices wentdown in Wall Street and there was deficit net income. The image of the company suffered all ofwhich affected the stakeholder. The argument that UCC increased the food problem of India ishogwash. There was much safer technology available for pesticide manufacture in Germany.UCC could have adopted that. In one stroke, UCC made a mockery of its image as a responsibleorganization built over decades of R&D and creative thinking. Although UCC had helped Indiain food self-sufficiency-it had been paid for these services. !You cannot justify taking a life bysaving the lives of 10 people. The verdict is guilty as per the stakeholder theory.The verdict of CSR can be automatically arrived at which is guilty. True-a hospital was built butit was a case of locking the stable door after the hose had bolted.THE KING RAT WHO FLED THE SINKING SHIP:And if UCC is guilty, then what about Warren Anderson? He is guilty as hell!As the chairman of UCC, Anderson authorized the technology transfer which means that theonus of using the technology safely/properly is Anderson’sAs the director in the UCIL board, Anderson was responsible for the safety. This is important tomention because Anderson had ideas of the measures available in both plants. The changes werebound to strike his attention. But he did nothing.He is responsible for the deaths as if he drove a vehicle, which suffered a brake failure andkilled all those people. Not homicide but culpable murder or negligence leading to death.CONCLUSION:-The author wishes to convey here that he has wrote this paper in a lighter vein which was done tostop the author’s mind from the atrocities carried out in Bhopal and the different photographswhich he came across in the course of the research, which were sufficient for the purpose ofchurning his stomach.On why I feel guilty, it is obvious that I was doing what other students and teenagers do –freaking out, when mass genocide was going on n the country.We should pledge that the flag of business ethics would always be kept flying high and stopflogging the dead horse. Let Bhopal be an example to everyone that without business ethics, youlose every time and how concepts of superior intellect and overconfidence can lead to disaster.That would be their last testaments and like the eternal soldier let us salute the people of Bhopalwho gave up their todays so that we can have our tomorrows. Amen!
Seekers of truth are requested to go through the Amnesty International Publication “TheClouds of Injustice” which can be read on the net. People may even be surprised to knowthat UCL owns the plumb URL www.bhopal.com . Their noble intention behind this is thatthey want visiting journalists to know the truth. I went to the site and posted a fewquestions but got no replies. Appendix-i