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More realistic account of Bhopal Gas Tragedy in new NCERT book

Monday January 10, 2011 01:33:07 PM, Shahnawaz Akhtar, IANS

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Bhopal: 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 academic session.

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 die?"

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 higher education.

"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, told IANS.

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 factory.

(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at



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