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Bhopal Gas Tragedy: JP Nagar has moved on, yet memories linger

The new flyover connecting JP Nagar with Karond has not only shortened the distance between the two localities but has saved locals from making risky trips across the railway tracks. From the flyover it is difficult to miss a dilapidated red and white building and empty factory sheds behind the tree cover. 

Thirty years ago, on the night of December 2, Bhopal was woken from sleep by a gas flowing out of one of the tanks in the factory, killing thousands over the next few days. India’s worst industrial accident became a symbol of corporate neglect, treachery and deceit.

Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant stands in one corner of a thriving city, hiding behind thick walls, tonnes of poisonous chemicals and the truth. “Nobody, comes here, it is just a jungle. Around December 3, when the anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy is observed, this place comes to life,” says the only state government official posted at the entrance. His job is to check permissions the district collector issues to journalists and researchers who want to visit the plant to write about it. 

A policeman lying on a cot nearby nods. The official points to a narrow road surrounded by thick vegetation. This leads to the gas tanks. “After 30 years, the plant is falling apart,” he says. The state government barricades the 90-acre Union Carbide plant before December 3 every year. 

At the time of the tragedy, the plant comprised a mother unit over 55 acres and another 35 acres leased from the Madhya Pradesh government for developing solar evaporation ponds. In 1998, the state government terminated all the leases, took control of the facility and assumed all responsibility of the site, including completion of any additional remedial action. 

This was four years after Union Carbide Corporation sold its stake in Union Carbide India to Eveready India. The state government built a huge wall around the site a few years later. “We don’t know what the government wants to do with the plant but it seems nothing will happen here,” says Hemraj Pateria. He is playing cricket inside the boundary. He and his friends climb in through a hole in the wall.

JP Nagar, which bore the brunt of the leak of methyl isocyanate, is a far cry from the rows of shanties of 1984. A service lane separates the colony of well-constructed houses from the two-lane highway. The flyover is the latest addition. 

The new JP Nagar suggests Bhopal has moved on. But near the Union Carbide plant, it is difficult to overlook the deaths, suffering and pain. A memorial by Dutch sculptor Ruth Waterman outside the plant reads, ‘No Hiroshima… No Bhopal… We Want To Live’.

For thousands still suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant is a reminder of one of the worst man-made disasters in history.

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