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Carbide well aware of MIC hazards


Carbide well aware of MIC hazards

Raajkumar Keswani

Independent investigations have revealed that Union Carbide was well aware of the hazards of MIC production in its Bhopal plant. Way back in 1979, a team of safety auditors, which had come to examine the safety methods of the plant, had recommended to the management that an evacuation plan be kept ready for the people residing in the neighborhood. But for reasons best known to it, the management turned a blind eye to this recommendation with the result that this known lapse caused 2,500 lives to be lost and left thousands of others incapacitated for life.

Bhopal Union Carbide Plant

During my investigation between 1982 and 1984, I came across a safety audit report of may 1982 which I had quoted in my article in ‘Jansatta’ of June 16, 1984, and subsequently vital portions of it in the columns of this newspaper on December 9,1984. The report disrobes the ‘holier than you’ stance of Union Carbide as far as the safety precautions at the Bhopal plant are concerned.

In July 1979, when the phase-II startup of the MIC plant was in progress, a safety auditor, Mr. R.G. Hull, visited the plant. In his report, Mr. Hull indicated serious concern over the safety standards adopted in the plant and made a specific recommendation that a contingency plan must be kept ready to alert and evacuates the neighborhood population.

“Plans for alerting the neighborhood to be pursued by DNC (Dr D.N. Chakravarty, the then works manager) in consultation with the managing director Dr W.R.Correa,” emphasized Hull in his report. But in response, a status report submitted in September 1980 (serial No 11) reveals a most cavalier attitude on the part of the management.

“Appropriate government authorities in Bhopal informed of implications of MIC production. Understanding of the problem in proper perspective is expected.” This casual approach is repeated in quarterly reports on the subject’ till February 25, 1981.

If the above mentioned status report is to be relied on, then independent enquiry into who were the authorities which were selected by the Carbide management to inform about the implications of MIC production and, upon receiving the information, whether any effective steps were taken by them to understand the problem and prevent a possible disaster or was it a mere eyewash to inform only those concerned who would not in any way, let down the confidence of the Carbide management? But one thing is sure, the relevant authorities who could have been associated with such information, especially the police. were kept in total darkness. This is evident from what Mr. Swaraj Puri, the superintendent of police. Bhopal, said when informed of the disaster for the first time.

“When the Carbide man told me that the gas leaked was Methyl Isocyanate. I asked him to spell it because I heard about it for the first time”…were his exact words. When his startling revelation came, a through probe was carried out by me but without any tangible success. After going through the merry-go-round of all the information, I ended up against a blank wall.

My efforts did not stop at the Carbide level. The Government records also confirmed no documentary evidence. A few officials who could have known the existence of this information from Union Carbide, denied knowledge of any such report.

A few ex-employees and some inside sources, who are still in the Carbide, have given two different versions on the subject. First, the Hull report has stirred up a long chain of discussion among the top brass of the plant at Bhopal. The then Works Manager, Dr D.N. Chakarvarty, was totally against disclosing the report the local authorities because of his apprehension that if a true picture was given, the officials might not allow the plant to run. His view was shared by a majority of his fellow managers. But some still wanted to have a plan to fall back upon in the event of mishap. The second version is given by an employee of the plant who is still in the job and wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. According to him, a particular authority in Bhopal was very well informed about the possible consequences involved in the production of MIC. “Many of the authorities were least interested in getting the information about what we were doing, they were merely interested in getting gifts, booze and jobs for their friends and relatives”, he says.

There were other pertinent issues raised in the report of 1979. These remained unattended and kept on deteriorating, culminating in the disaster of December 1984.

Some excerpts from the report:

1. Although the plant superintendents are found to be fully conversant with their responsibility for the dire emergency, some confusion exits in terms of defined responsibility in case of toxic release, Jobs on toxic release emergency should be fully clarified to phase II (MIC) plant superintendents.

2. Safety rules are written out adequately, but they are not followed fully. Managers and supervisors should be talked to and checked for enforcing the safety rules.

3. Line managers are found not to be in close touch with all stages of the safety programme. There has been a tendency of delegation to junior levels. Direct involvement of line managers with details of programme is required.

4. Overall emergency communication system is not adequate. Equipment like a more powerful siren, a public announcement system and emergency telephone exchange to be instituted and two-way radio communication plan to be pursed.

Another important point raised in the Hull report pertains to installation of personal pollution monitoring gadgets. The accessible status reports up to February 25, 1981, i.e. approximately two years after the Hull report. The subject constantly had the same status. It reads: “Equipment has been identified; orders will be finalized subject to foreign exchange availability.”

The volcano continued to smoulder while management slept over the Hull report recommendations.

(Indian Express, Nov.1985)

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