Against a background of black, the pages tell the story of the
world's worst industrial disaster - in Bhopal on Dec 2-3 night,
1984. The photographs, of the deaths, the sufferers, and the
killer factory, have photo captions highlighted in red. This is
part of NCERT's new Social Sciences book for Class 8 for the new
The Social Science edition, that was released this month, recounts
the story of the Bhopal gas tragedy under the chapter Law and
Social Justice. It not only has a report on the industrial
disaster but also raises serious concerns about the fate of the
gas-affected people and the weak environment laws in the country.
It dwells on how taking advantage of weak environment laws and
availability of cheap labour, environmentally dangerous plants
open in developing nations.
Several photographs of the incident, victims, deaths and protests
have been published in the book. The background colour of the
pages has been kept black while the headlines and photo captions
are highlighted in red colour.
A caption of one of the pictures says: "Dow, how many more must
The account begins: "The world's worst industrial tragedy took
place in Bhopal 24 years ago. Union Carbide (UC), an American
company, had a factory in the city in which it produced
pesticides. At midnight of 2 December, methyl-isocyanate (MIC) - a
highly poisonous gas - started leaking from the UC plant..."
"Within three days, more than 8,000 people were dead. Hundreds of
thousands were maimed.
"Most of those exposed to the poison gas came from poor,
working-class families, of which nearly 50,000 people are today
sick to work. Among those who survived, many developed severe
respiratory disorders, eye problems and other disorders. Children
developed peculiar abnormalities, like the girl in the photo."
"The disaster was not an accident. UC had deliberately ignored the
essential safety measures in order to cut costs. Much before the
Bhopal disaster, there had been incidents of gas leak killing a
worker and injuring several."
"24 years later, people are still fighting for justice: for safe
drinking water, for healthcare facilities and jobs for the people
poisoned by UC. They also demand that (Warren) Anderson, the UC
chairman who faces criminal charges, be prosecuted."
Criticising government apathy in allowing the factory to come up,
a paragraph of the chapter reads: "Government officials refused to
recognize the plant as hazardous and allowed it to come up in a
populated locality. When some municipal officials in Bhopal
objected that the installation of an MIC production unit in 1978
was a safety violation, the position of the government was that
the state needs the continued investment of the Bhopal plant,
which provides jobs."
It also has a comparative account of Union Carbide's safety system
in Bhopal and its other plant in the United States.
"At West Virginia (USA.) computerised warning and monitoring
systems were in place, whereas the UC plant in Bhopal relied on
manual gauges and the human senses to detect gas leaks. At the
West Virginia plant, emergency evacuation plans were in place, but
non-existent in Bhopal."
Speaking about the book, Arvind Sardana of Eklavya - Institute for
educational research and innovative action told IANS: "When we try
to make students understand the economics, the role of the
regulatory becomes the basic concept to describe. As Amartya Sen
says the ultimate aim of economics is welfare of the people. The
Bhopal gas tragedy is the best example of how everybody, be it
government or company, remained careless and the voice of victims
got suppressed in the name of foreign investment."
"Children should know the existing environment laws in the country
as now nuclear power plants and BT cotton are to come up in
India," he said.
Sardana feels that the Bhopal incident got included in the
syllabus very late. "But then the government should be ready to
face such writing as we have drawn a sharp picture of the
incident," he added.
Activists of the Bhopal gas tragedy have welcomed the NCERT step
and look forward for its inclusion in the primary as well as
"It comes late but still the way it has been mentioned it is a
welcome step. But it should be included in primary and higher
level syllabus also. Since the memory of people is very short it
is the need of the hour to understand more and more
environment-related issues," Abdul Jabbar, a leading activist,
Satinath Sarangi, another activist, said: "We are indeed very
happy that NCERT has included a chapter on the Bhopal gas
disaster. The survivors' organisations have been asking for its
inclusion for over 20 years. We now look forward to it being made
part of the syllabus in college and university curriculum too -
particularly in such professional courses as medicine and law."
The current NCERT Social Sciences book has a case study on the
Bhopal gas tragedy in Chapter 5, titled Industry. It is a brief
13-line account with a single photograph of the Union Carbide
(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)