The tragedy at Bhopal is beyond words. The culprits, not in the legal sense, must be found. Most of the debate so far has been limited to attempts at finding the immediate causes. Unexceptionably important it is to do so but the whole debate, barring some exceptions, tends implicitly, to exonerate the possible larger hand behind it, not seeing the deeper malaise whose rather 'shaking' instance the tragedy at Bhopal is. One does not know whether the immediate causes will ever be established. Even months after the incident, it is not known to the public which gas killed them all. And to top it the Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr. Varadarajan has said 'No gas is a killer, it is men who kill'. However right the second part maybe, for which he has been greeted in the press, the first part is a grave mischief maker. The scientists so far have succeeded in absolving science and themselves from shouldering the responsibility of the evil consequences, even disasters. This article is devoted to identifying the possible culprits, the different levels of human exercise which must take their share of blame.

Five different causes or levels of causes may be identified. They are: sabotage, technical, political-commercial, technological and scientific. They are all related, in fact hierarchically so. But discussing them separately may help clarify the situation considerably.

A story is circulating that Union Carbide plant supervisor Shakech Ibrahim Qureshi who was on the spot trying to stop the leakage has a revealing story to tell about how and why it all happened. But he has been badly affected and is at present kept under tight security, no one being allowed to talk to him. Conjectures have been let loose about deliberate hand at something which got out of control. It is not unbelievable in the context of disclosures every now and then about the sinister game of dumping and hazardous experimenting played by the Western powers (political, commercial, and scientific) in the Third World. The sabotage story also derives sustenance from the reports that the western experts who had descended in the city immediately after the incident were more interested in autopsy results than in the symptoms.

Technical error or flaw may be said to comprise the whole spectrum from. the neglect of standard precautions to the impossibility of having a proper safeguard system for the given process. Reports have it that proper safeguards were not applied with the full knowledge that they were necessary and that consequences of a mishap were extraordinarily hazardous. The safeguard system installed was also not adhered to. All this is said to be related with the not-so-good economic condition of "the plant which 'only four years ago made a profit of 8 to 11 cores while the holding concern in U.S.A netted 556 million dollars', by the way, Union Carbide has been one of the highest paying companies in this country.

Extracts of the plant operating manual, published in the press, appear to show beyond fall doubt that compared to the hazardous consequences of the leakage of methyl-iso-cyanate and other chemicals in use in the plant, practically no precautions were taken. Perhaps more important is the fact-that no design of a reasonably good safe-guard system exists. It was hinted at by the Chief of the CSIR when they were preparing for neutralizing runs for the huge quantities of the iso-cyanate left behind. It has been confirmed by the manual extracts: "Some of the emergencies in the MIC unit are unpredictable and beyond human efforts to react and bring the situation under control in a safe manner".

This only points to the criminal share of the political and the commercial interest. Many facts are yet to be made public. For instance, what are all the products, of this Union Carbide Plant? What all are the purposes for which these products are used? Which products are used at home and which are exported and how much? For people shall only be in their senses if they doubt that such hazardous processes are installed in the poor countries for the benefit of the richer countries who consume most of its products. Drug dumping is an immensely profitable find totally criminal exercise performed on a very large scale. Drugs and pesticides which are forbidden in the West are advertised and sold in the Third World Experimenting with the consequences of new chemicals on people and on crops goes on in the Third World. As in the country so with the international order—less developed or the backward pays the price of further advance of the advanced. But let these crimes be as they are and ask the question: what was the government in Delhi and Bhopal doing in this case?

Much has been reported about the government at Bhopal, but little on Delhi. 'An IAS officer had opposed the plans of the Union Car side's merchant of death.But in tune with other things he was transferred and the plan okay. Reports now show (that there were constant warnings in the press and questions were raised on the floor of the house but of no avail. Knowing full well the likely consequences, the Government of Madhya Pradesh connived in the great conspiracy. But what was the Government in New Delhi doing? Is it not equally or even more responsible? But this too is not enough. commercial interest can buy and political power may take the decision to allow or even to actively pursue, but who builds the plant, who designs it, who develops the process, and who creates the principles for such technology? Not only the men who do it all but the objects of their creation, the technology,the science too, should be held responsible. Without entering the question of how modern science anti technology has been an equal companion of Western Imperialism in its killing and maiming campaigns, let me restrict myself to the technology and the science directly related here. Very large number of cereals is heavily contaminated by the poisonous pesticides which include lindane, dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor, BHC, DDT etc., all of which are banned in Europe and America. According to an Indian expert the incidence of contamination is about 76 per cent out of which about 28 per cent cases contain pesticide residues above the tolerance limits. This about pesticides known to be poisonous. What about thousands of formulations in the market which have not been tested? The case of medicines is better known, for we use them routinely. International standards for safe levels are available for less than 1 percent. We all use innumerable medicines all forbidden in the West.

The technology of modern medicine and pest control has extraordinary similarities. They are both designed to kill but not eradicate. They are both symptomatic, attacking only the immediate causes, not bothering about the root cause and its eradication. In this sense they are most unscientific. Both are harming and damaging the human body and perhaps mind, in unknown ways. Congenital deformities, cancers still-births, miscarriages and a number of chronic ailments connected with the digestive and the respiratory systems may be resulting from such doses and overdoses that we are made to consume in the name of medicine and in our daily meals. Claude Alvares has quoted deadly figures in an article in the 'Weekly'. According to Calestous Juma of the Environment Liaison Center in Nairobi the actual figures of pesticide poisoning are close to 20 lakh annually, out of which 40,000 are fatalities. Among those dead, 75 per cent are from the Third World. The World Health Organization estimates 500,000 persons as being affected by pesticides in the Third World every year, out of which 5000 die.

It can be argued, as it has been in case of other industries, that we do not know how to work with these modern commodities. We are not in the habit of using precautions and safeguards the way we ought to. There is a small step from here to declaring that we are an obscurantist and superstitious people who lack the scientific temper so necessary for dealing with modern gadgetry etc. So we inflict pain on ourselves. 'No gas is a killer, it is men who kill’.

It can also be argued that the pesticides in use today do not suit our climatic conditions, soil etc. Methyl-iso-cyanate is a gas at 37'C and not below. Very cold countries may have a natural safeguard against Bhopal-type happening. This can lead to conceiving appropriate technology and appropriate products in the world of pest-control. But appropriateness here too is expected to lead to where it has already in other spheres of technology. If we are not ready to give up some of our basic assumptions of today, we can conceive of only blind alleys and suicidal paths. Gandhi was not, perhaps, being absurd when, without absolving men, he held the machine too responsible.

Let us now, therefore, come to the deepest of the causes, which for the same reason looks most remote. Modern science is that unique human artifact which has by now assumed a superhuman status. But let us transgress, in human interest.

A process which had started long back found its climax in the first half of 19th century in Europe. In 1828 a German scientist succeeded in making urea from ammonium cyanate. And the f scientific community was quick to conclude that there was no {fundamental difference between organic and inorganic compounds and the related processes. In (1840, another German chemist concluded that soil fertility was only a matter of Analyzing for Potassium and Phosphorous. By 1850 a, chemist and an agriculturist had collaborated to demonstrate in the field that plants required only appropriate amounts of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) for obtaining large crop yields. This was the N-P-K concept of fertility. Add to these two discoveries, the principles of thermodynamics with a new model of efficiency, and the explosive mixture is complete. The scientist since then has wholeheartedly collaborated with the constantly rising new capital and the expanding imperial interests. On a relatively removed plane he was helpless the new science was the science of big industry and artificially induced processes. This science,) therefore, sees agriculture too as modern industry. Fields are reactors describable by input-output parameters. The result is for everyone to see.

Agriculture world over has become economically unvisitable. Continued cultivation owes its existence to starvation in the Third World and subsidy in the First. Soil fertility declines over years and one may observe greater and greater, use of N-P-K from outside just to maintain the crop yields. Hybridization and use of artificial leads to the growth of unknown pests who are killed the way they are also killing human beings along with. Bhopal is a direct consequence of these scientific principles. Lest this ,be considered a hyper-critical chatter, I hasten to add that positive experimental and theoretical scientific work is in progress which seeks to relate this state of affairs with the principles of science enumerated above. For instance, work in progress at the Murugappa Chettiar Research Center at Madras under the guidance of Prof. C. V. Seshadri is questioning the universal applicability, in fact the truth, behind the principals of thermodynamics and N-P-K concept of fertility. The bias resulting in reducing all processes 'to inorganic mechanical processes is the foundation of materialism of the worst kind. It sees Bhopal as he costs that may have to be paid for greater prosperity. Only prosperity for whom?

This bias is rooted in the method of science too, which sees relationships i in terms of antagonisms. This leads to domination and exploitation and the subjects who refuse to be dominated or exploited are killed. Foundations of modern, scientific and technological progress are on the graves of those cores of people who refused to give up control of resources around them. But those who kill outside kill inside too. Bhopal is just an instance.

The killer bias in the content and method stems from the perspective and philosophy whose most prized child is the modern science. This view separates science from justice and knowledge from virtue. Science which in due course assumes the status of the only legitimate knowledge is unhampered. Not knowing internal constraints it gathers enough strength to flout all external constraints. It is the master of the fact-realm, the realm of values being totally disjointed. So men and their societies do not any more control and science has a supra-human existence. This is both the theoretical and the practical position. But this is also only the dominant position. The dissent, marginal in theory by now, but in conformity with the interests of the great majority of the people of the world, should be able to muster up enough strength one day.

In the end only this that the tragedy at Bhopal was not an accident so it is comparable with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What with thousands dead, and a hundred times that number maimed.

Author: Sunil Sahasrabudhey Gandhian

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