Much has been said and written on the Bhopal disaster and its aftermath. While issues such as the nature and extent of the tragedy, it’s possible long-term effects, the culpability of the multinational Union Carbide Corporation and its cohorts in India, the bungling by our Government, scientists, technologists and other professional elites, the need for massive relief operations etc., have been widely dealt with, many of the larger issues that really come to the fore in the context of Bhopal disaster have not yet found adequate expression. What is distressing is the total lack of sensibility and utter callousness displayed so far by most of our scientists, technologists, administrators and other professionals and their professional bodies, in even refusing to start a debate on what happened at Bhopal, what we must do to ensure that such disasters do not recur and what we learn from all this in formulating our S&T and other policies in future. We believe that such issues can no longer be shirked any more. The following collection of articles on the 'Lessons from Bhopal' is to precisely focus on several of these larger issues that have come to the forefront in the context of the Bhopal disaster. Whether our professional elites want it or not, the debate on these issues is going to start and perhaps take onto still larger issues concerning the entire reconstruction of Indian Society.

While the Government and the official machinery has reacted to the Bhopal disaster, as though it ware just one more natural calamity like an earthquake or a cyclone, the event has brought forth arid mare probing responses from a number of non-official groups as well as individuals. Finding expression in the form of articles in the press meetings and seminars, processions, demonstration, and signature campaigns, these groups and individuals have attached great significance to the tragedy and raised a wide range of questions and issues. Some of the important issues raised in this context have been the following:

  1. The functioning of the multinational, corporations in our Country their greed, callousness and double-standards while operating in the thirdworld countries. It has been demanded that their operations be closely scrutinized and curbed, and. even that they as completely thrown out of the country.

  2. The poor safety standards prevailing in the industrial units in our .country": It is being pointed out that the Bhopal disaster is far from being an isolated incident and that observance of safety regulations is woefully inadequate or even non-existent in many industrial' units in our country, be they foreign owned, Indian or Government run. It is being urged that the existing conditions in the various industrial establishments in the country be thoroughly investigated, more stringent safety regulations be passed and strictly enforced.

  3. Environmental hazards being posed by the industrial units and other projects in the country: It is being increasingly brought out that many of our developmental schemes such as large scale industrial units, dams, canals etc., are steadily disrupting and destroying the environment and eroding people's health and means lot livelihood. Demands are being raised that a thorough environmental impact assessment be carried out before any such scheme is sanctioned and taken up, and that steps be taken to reduce the environmental hazards of the existing units. The right to safe environment should be recognized as a fundamental and enforceable right of the people.

  4. People’s right to know: Very little information is ever made available to them. Public regarding the nature, functioning and problems of most of our developmental projects. This is particularly so in the case of industries, many of which are located in densely populated areas. People are denied access to basic information like what the plant is producing, what are the processes and materials being used, in what ways these are likely to affect the life and ecology of the locality, what are the hazards involved, and in the event of an accident, what are the people expected to do, etc. In many cases, it is not even known whether such, information even exists. In the case of Bhopal, the situation had gone to such an absurd extent that, even after the disaster, the people were kept totally in the dark as to what had happened and what needs to be done. The demand that has been put forward is that the people should have an absolute right to know what is going on inside all the plants and projects, and this right should be enforceable by law.

  5. The role of the Government and bureaucracy in the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster has been attracting severe criticism for its failure to provide adequate relief and rehabilitation to the affected people, its failure to identify and proceed firmly against those responsible for the disaster, and in general, for its total lack of appreciation of the feelings of the people. It has been criticized for having .been under various influences and pressures to such an extent that all the earlier warnings about the possibility of such a disaster were totally ignored, and after the occurrence, 4he culprits were being even shielded and protected.

  6. The role of the S&T Community in the Country : How its conduct both before and after the disaster has totally belied the responsibility entrusted to it by the society, and how its conduct has been unbecoming of the moral, ethical and professional standards expected of any self-respecting S&T Community. It has been pointed out that, disregarding all the norms worthy of the members of such a Community, our S&T personnel have conducted themselves merely as the spokesmen for politicians, bureaucrats and foreign capital.
As can be seen from the above, the range of issues raised in the context of Bhopal has been quite wide and of far-reaching significance. The central concern expressed has-been on preventing another Bhopal from happening, and the many suggestions and demands, if accepted and implemented, would doubtless go a long way in reducing such a possibility. It is essential that a concerted nation wide effort be organized in this direction.

At the same time, one cannot help noticing that much of the debate and discussion seems to be sharing a common premise characterized by a belief that : (i) If only we are more cautious and take the necessary measures, then it is possible for us to 'tame' the modern S & T (whose end results are the plants like the one in Bhopal) and make it serve the people of our country in a safe manner, and (ii) We really have no choice in the matter but to have more and more of such plants, if we are to develop and progress as a nation. Foreclosing options at this level, we believe, is both premature as well as unnecessary. Firstly, it should be remembered that if the West today appears to have acquired reasonable mastery and control over this S & T, it is only after going through a process very costly and painful not only to themselves but perhaps more so to other peoples. Even then, it is far from true that this S&T has been made 'safe' in the West. It is a serious and open question as to what price we will have to pay if we as a nation under the condition existing today, have to learn to use this S&T. In a widespread and larger scale manner, even assuming that such a thing is possible.

The second aspect, viz. that we really have no choice in the matter, also needs a careful re-examination. It is true that the issue is often. Posted in this manner: If we have to have development and progress, then we must be prepared to have more and more of the Bhopal-type plants, and all those who are opposed to such plants are actually opposing all development and progress. This position, however, becomes highly questionable especially in the case under consideration. After all the "plant in Bhopal was supposedly producing highly toxic chemical pesticides. As is well known chemical pesticides became an essential input to agriculture only with the adoption of the Green Revolution package. It became essential because of the use of the so called high yielding variety (HYV) seeds that have been evolved in short periods of time in artificial environments and hence have no natural immunity to pests; because of the exclusive use of chemical fertilizers that disrupt the soil chemistry and the biological environment of the plant; because of the poor water-management associated with large dams, canals and large-scale destruction of the forests, etc. So, to say that we have no alternative to increasingly producing and consuming chemical pesticides is correct only if it is accepted that we have no alternative to the Green Revolution package for increasing our food production. And this is far from being the case. On the one' hand, it is being increasingly Recognized that, apart from destroying the soil and poisoning the food and the environment, the Green Revolution technology of agriculture is also highly wasteful of all resources and energy, and is indeed a very inefficient way of producing food. And then, it can also be confidently asserted that the science and technology of agriculture evolved and. perfected by our farmers over thousands of years, an agriculture that did not need chemical pesticides, is more than adequate to meet all our needs, if only we are prepared to learn from them. The existence of such alternatives to the Green Revolution package has never been seriously considered. Without exploring this possibility seriously and sincerely, it is quite premature and unnecessary to conclude that we have no alternative but to rely increasingly on chemical pesticides, and thus have more and more of the Bhopal type plants.

It is not being suggested that we can abruptly stop using all chemical pesticides and that all the pesticide plants can be immediately shut down. What is needed is an effort to reduce our total dependence on such pesticides, and explore ways and means of eventually phasing them out altogether. The Chinese experience seems to be significant in this regard. Starting from a position of total dependence on chemical pesticides, like what we are doing now, the Chinese agriculture seems to have soon realized their harmful effects and adopted a variety of means whereby they have been able to reduce the use of chemical pesticides significantly, at least in a few selected areas. In a similar way, now that we are becoming increasingly aware of the problems involved, it should be possible for us to check and reverse the trend. Without attempting this, to blindly believe that all that we can do is to try to make the Bhopal type plants safer, is far too feeble a response to the tragedy of Bhopal.

It may be safely asserted that what has been said about pesticides and agriculture is also true, to varying degrees, in other areas like health, housing etc. A much wider range of alternatives are in fact available to us and that they should all be explored seriously. This ought to form an integral part in any effort to make sure that Bhopal’s do not recur. In fact, the most significant lesson that we should learn from Bhopal is the need to reconsider our S & T options at a fundamental level in all the sectors.

A certain analogy between Bhopal and Jallianwalla Bagh seems inescapable. The massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh permanently and drastically changed our perception of the British rule. It revealed in a flash as it were, the true nature of the British rule and drove home the lesson that if further Jallianwalla Baghs are to be prevented, then there is no alternative but that the British must leave India. In a similar way, the Bhopal disaster must make us all see the true face of the path of development that is being pursued in our country. It must make us see that Bhopal’s are an integral part of this path and that all attempts to prevent further Bhopal’s must necessarily include searching for alternatives to this path of development.

Author: Madras Group

No comments:

Post a Comment