Survivor victims of Union Carbide gas leak hold posters during a protest against former chairman of Union Carbide Warren Anderson and Dow Chemicals on the eve of the 29th anniversary of the gas tragedy in Bhopal, India, 01 December 2013. A gas leak at a then Union Carbide Corporation plant in Bhopal on the intervening night of 02 and 03 December in 1984 killed at least 15,000 people in what is considered the world’s worst industrial accident. Image Credit: EPA

Bhopal: Tuesday marks 29 years since the Bhopal gas disaster took place in India.

The tragedy occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984, when Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) and other lethal gases spewed out of the Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide plant, killing more than 4,000 people instantly and maiming several thousand others for life.

For Hanifa, a resident of a blue moon colony, which is hardly a few miles away from the defunct Union Carbide plant, the criminal case against the officials of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) has no meaning. She is not too concerned about the extradition of accused Warren Anderson either.

But she is more concerned about the water supply in her area.

“My whole family is suffering because of this water, which is highly contaminated. We have different health problems and no one cares about us.”

Clean drinking water still remains an issue for the population of more than 25,000 people residing in 14 colonies around the former Union Carbide plant.

Several reports have revealed that groundwater in these areas is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. The majority of residents still depend on hand-pumps, as the water supplied by Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) is not enough to meet their daily needs.

“We understand that water drawn from these hand-pumps is hazardous and has an adverse effect on our health but we are left with no other option as the tap water supplied by the BMC does not fulfil our requirements,” said another resident of Bluemoon colony Huzefa Bi.

The pungent groundwater is affecting the health of residents in the area, with many complaining of persistent abdominal pain, headache, giddiness, redness in eyes and coughing and joint pain.

In some areas tap water connections are allegedly still not available, a claim denied by Bhopal Municipal Corporation. The civic body said there had been no groundwater contamination from Union Carbide since 2001 as per the reports received by them on regular basis from the pollution control board.

Bhopal Mayor Krishna Gaur said: “We have been doing everything we could do. Some areas are getting municipal water supply.”

Groups representing those people still affected by the 1984 leak of toxic chemicals say the government has not met its July 30th deadline to provide clean drinking water to the people living close to the factory. They say that thousands of people are still using groundwater contaminated by the chemical spill for cooking, cleaning and personal hygiene.

Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action said, “The Supreme Court passed an order in May 2004 that all the people living in localities close to the Union Carbide should be provided piped drinking water. After that the Monitoring Committee set up by the Supreme Court intervened many times, but failed to provide piped drinking water to a large number of families in the affected areas.”

In November 2012 and again in January 2013 the Supreme Court issued directions to the state government to provide piped water, and ensure that sewage and drinking water lines were kept apart. Despite these orders, where pipes have been laid, there are several places where sewage and drinking water lines are close to each other.

On February 19, 2013, Justice K.K. Lahoti, who is the chairman of the committee gave instructions that the work of providing clean drinking water connections to all the resident of 22 affected areas be completed by July 30.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan convener Abdul Jabbar said, “We want to make sure that the affected people get justice at any cost. The government has failed to provide any relief to the affected so far.”

Meanwhile, members of the Sambhavna Trust released a report to coincide with the tragedy’s anniversary. The Trust provides free medical care to survivors.

The study, titled “Toxic Trespass: Poisons in daily use products”, claims that ordinary citizens are also being poisoned by corporations without their knowledge and consent just like the victims of Bhopal.

Presenting the conclusions and findings from the study of 200 families, Satinath Sarangi said that the chemicals that people are exposed to on a daily basis can cause damage to the respiratory, digestive, immune, endocrinal, reproductive systems and especially organs such as liver, kidneys, skin, brain and eyes.

A key finding of this study was that people of all economic classes and ages were using hazardous home products. This is particularly so because of the range of packaging used by the manufacturers.