From CNN Intern Sachin Seth:
Residents in the Gulf are fighting for their lives, as oil seeps closer to their shores and businesses begin to close their doors. Meanwhile, nearly 9,000 miles away in the central Indian town of Bhopal, hundreds of thousands feel their pain. After all, in 1984, they went through something similar, but much more severe.
In December 1984, toxic chemicals leaked from a pesticide plant in which an American-owned company, Union Carbide Corporation, held a majority stake. A noxious cloud engulfed much of the town. Hundreds of thousands frantically ran into the streets. Thousands died in the night. Thousands more died in the days, months and years after. The victims' families say nearly 20,000 have perished from related illnesses.
Astonishingly, a quarter of a century later, 390 tons of toxic waste still lies on the now-defunct plant site. There is no safe way to dispose of it, so it leaks into the groundwater, which many in the region depend on. Cancer and other diseases are rampant in the area, so the effect is generational.
As they watch the tragedy unfold in the Gulf, residents of Bhopal wish Union Carbide would receive just a fraction of the backlash BP has, or give up just a fraction of the cash. $20 billion is a lot of rupees. The company paid the Indian government $470 million to compensate more than half a million victims. They've made no sweeping efforts to clean up the waste and the now-crippled local environment.
Dow Chemical Co. (the company that owns Union Carbide) says the 1989 out-of-court settlement transferred all clean-up and recovery responsibilities to Madhya Pradesh, the province in which Bhopal resides. The U.S. didn't let BP run and hide, but India let Union Carbide off the hook.
The Indian government recently approved a $270 million aid package to compensate the victims. But that money will go to just 42,000 of the almost 600,000 victims in Bhopal.
The parallels between the tragedies in the Gulf and in Bhopal are quite amazing. However, while many say BP and the federal government have been slow to respond to the oil spill, Union Carbide has been entirely absent from Bhopal and somehow, without repercussion, has managed to shift responsibility onto the Indians.