Bhopal gas leak: The world’s worst industrial disaster may finally get a memorial

Remembering the past.
Remembering the past.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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In the early hours of Dec. 03, 1984, some 40 tonnes of highly toxic methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory and blew into the slums surrounding the pesticide facility in Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh (MP).

By official accounts, 2,259 people died in the immediate aftermath of the Bhopal gas leak. Over the years, however, an estimated 15,000 people were killed as a result of exposure to the toxic gas, making it the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Now, over three decades later, the government is working on a plan to build a grand memorial to honour the victims of the Bhopal gas leak. The inspiration: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan, dedicated to the world’s first city to suffer a nuclear attack.

“I want the Bhopal memorial to be of international standards, like the one that has been built in Hiroshima, to remind people and the upcoming generations that such tragedies should not recur,” said Vishwas Sarang, MP’s minister for gas tragedy relief and rehabilitation.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
Image: Dean S. Pemberton/Wikimedia Commons

The state government will cough up Rs180 crore for the project, to be built on the premises of the erstwhile Union Carbide factory. Now, that seems like a big sum of money, considering that some of the victims and kin of the deceased received as little as Rs35,000 ($524) as compensation and that, too, after years of fighting for it.

However, before any memorial can be constructed, authorities will have to clean up over 300 tonnes of toxic waste that remain on the factory premises. The first trial runs to dispose of the waste were only undertaken last year, when some 10 tonnes were incinerated. The rest lies where it has been for 32 years now.

Nonetheless, local activists have welcomed the government’s belated move.

“When this memorial will be built, it will send a signal to the world that such a tragedy should not occur again, and inspire them to work for ensuring the safety of people against such tragic incidents,” said Abdul Jabar of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan, which works with survivors of the incident.

Jabar added that his group had been making this demand for the last 20 years.