“Pollution control is the hardest part”

It has been 35 years since the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, occurred on December 2, 1984. The day is observed every year as the National Pollution Control Day to commemorate people who lost their lives in the unfortunate incident.

But there seems to be no lessons learnt from the Bhopal tragedy as pollution continues to remain the biggest challenge before the government.

Experts feel that there is a lack of transparency on industrial emissions and data pertaining to pollution in the public domain. Onus is on policymakers to set things right. Mr Mahesh Kashyap, a consultant with Environmental Management & Policy Research Institute (EMPRI), said that though countries like Canada have taken a cue from the Bhopal tragedy and developed programmes to ensure such accident do not happen, India is yet to take any initiative.

“One of the biggest challenges for pollution control is non-availability of primary data from industries, such as what they store, what they release to different environmental mediums, etc. The government must come out with policies for industries and the industry must ensure safety so that such accidents do not happen again,” he said.

Not a single water body in Bengaluru Urban limits conforms to Class A water quality index as the entry of sewage fails the rejuvenation attempts by civic agencies. Though the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has admitted that construction and transport industries are the major contributors to air pollution in the city, regulations regarding dumping of waste are seldom followed by the industries.

“The Bhopal gas tragedy is a prime example of corporate irresponsibility. But it seems we haven’t learnt from the world’s worst industrial disaster. Today, India has become a pollution haven for big industries with air and water pollutants significantly impacting human health.  According to a study, air pollution alone is killing a child every three minutes in India. Reports also suggest that almost 80% of India’s surface water is polluted and untreated waste water discharge from industries is one of the major causes of pollution,” said Mr Avinash Chanchal, project head, air pollution, Greenpeace India.

He felt that lack of transparency in industrial emissions and strict pollution control measures are major contributors to pollution. “We need adequate environmental controls and authorities should take strict actions on big polluters.

Over 3,700 died in Bhopal

The Bhopal tragedy was a gas leak incident that occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Ltd’s pesticide plant in Bhopal. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, a highly toxic substance.

Although estimates vary on the death toll, local officials put it at 2,259. However, the Madhya Pradesh government confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. A government affidavit in 2006 also said the leak caused 5,58,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary or partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. There are others who estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.

The Indian government and local activists argue that slack management and deferred maintenance created a situation where routine pipe maintenance caused a backflow of water into a MIC tank, triggering the disaster. But Union Carbide Corporation argued that water entered the tank because of an act of sabotage.

The National Pollution Control Day is observed on Dec. 2 to spread awareness on the ramifications of air pollution and the measures that can be taken to curb it. The day is also observed in the memory of those who lost their lives in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

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