The World’s Worst Industrial Disaster: Who’s To Blame?

In the early hours of December 3rd 1984, between 30-40 tons of methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic gas, leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant just three miles outside of Bhopal, India. The poisonous gas burned people eyes, throats, and resulted in the immediate death of at least 3,800 people. In a 2006 affidavit Indian government figures estimate that over 5,200 people were killed and several thousand other individuals were severely disabled. Following the disaster, Union Carbide tried to avoid any legal responsibility. Survivors fought for years to bring justice to the suffering they faced. The cause of the disaster remains under debate even today. Many, including local activists and the Indian government, argued that poor management and maintenance led to a backflow of water into the methyl isocyanate tank and led to the leak. However, Union Carbide disagreed. In 1985 they began an extensive investigation into the incident, conducted more that 70 interviews and “examined some 70,000 pages of plant records and documentation that the Indian government had reluctantly released”. They concluded, around 3 years later in The Jackson Browning Report, that a large volume of water had been put into the methyl isocyanate tank. In short, it was an act of sabotage.  Eventually the company reached a settlement with the Indian government. They accepted moral responsibility and paid a compensation of $470 million. This disaster created sentiments of distrust and hatred of American companies, as seen so clearly in Animal’s People. So, who’s to blame for what happened? The “Kampani” from “Amrika”? Or those who sabotaged the pesticide plant? How does this change the way we think about the book and how blame is divided? 

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  1. I think the question of “who’s to blame?” is a very important question to bring up. It may have initially appeared to be Kampani’s fault alone. Although given this information, we are forced to reconsider who is actually responsible for the catastrophe. Initially, it seemed to me that those who committed the sabotage are to blame, as they are the cause of the disaster. Yet, had the company invested in better and more effective security and surveillance, such an incident would not have occurred. Surely, in the United States, such measures would be legal requirements for any company running such a project. The same requirements may not have been imposed by the Indian government, which allowed this incident to occur, due to lack of precautions. Therefore, there are actually three parties to blame.

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