The rampant use of pesticides and chemicals has deadly effects
on health (photo courtesy: outlook)
The judgment that was delivered 26 years after the world's biggest chemical disaster in Bhopal is unique in many ways. First, because even after killing more than 20000 people and injuring many more permanently for their life, the judicial system had difficult time to find the culprits. Eventually when the few of the guilty were found, they were sentenced to only two years of imprisonment, making mockery of the justice that was delayed as well as denied. Second, because the world witnessed the omnipresent, faceless corporate power that was beyond the reach of the legal and democratic folds of sovereign governments.
The MIC gas that leaked from the plant in Bhopal was used to manufacture pesticides. Over the years the production and consumption of pesticides has grown manifold. Chemical plants like the one Union Carbide had in Bhopal, are manufacturing pesticides in India that are banned in developed countries. The farmers are enticed into the chemical-pesticide trap with the support of government subsidies. As a result, our farmers and soils have become deeply addicted to fertilizers and pesticides.
This addiction is high in the Green Revolution states like Punjab and Haryana. But we find that even in the remote hill region of Himalayas or in the tribal hinterland of Bastar, the tentacles of chemical farming have gripped the farmers. This has not only contaminated food commodities with pesticide residues, but also the soil and water. More than 70 per cent of the food produced in India has pesticide residues. These residues find their way into mother's milk, as recent studies have found, but policy makers remain unfazed.
In the long-run, low-dose exposure to pesticide residue leads to dreadful effects on health such as immune-suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. High incidence of cancer among the people in Punjab, as is evident from the ironically called 'Cancer Express', the train that carry the cancer patients to nearby Rajasthan town for treatment, is a proof of slow poisoning. Thus, the Bhopal tragedy is re-enacted everyday in Punjab. The deformities among children in Kasargod, Kerala due to wide spread use of Endosulfan is a clear indicator of the damage caused to future generations by mindless use of pesticides.
Chemical plants like the one Union Carbide had in Bhopal, are manufacturing pesticides in India that are banned in developed countries. The farmers are enticed into the chemical-pesticide trap with the support of government subsidies.
Unfortunately, we fail to learn from these facts. We can see many little Bhopals in the pesticides-affected populations. We may not be able to move away totally from the addiction of chemical farming but the answer to disasters like Bhopal lie in adopting farming methods that reduce dependency on chemical farming, has least impact on the soil and water resources and which do not have adverse impact on human health. There are organizations like Kheti Virasat Mission, trying to propagate ecological farming in Punjab. They have taken up the challenge to put a stop to enacting many more Bhopals in Punjab, motivating farmers to adopt farming methods that build the soil fertility without chemicals, and taking care of the health issues.
Fortunately there are many such groups scattered all over India who are proposing alternatives to chemical farming. But these local solutions have no place in the corporate driven agriculture agenda of the government. Despite farmer's suicides in Vidharbha, Bhopal like pesticide plants remain the corporate solution for the agriculture.
The verdict of Bhopal has exposed the might of faceless global corporate power, which cannot be identified in Andersons or Union Carbide. For them changing identities to Dow Chemicals through mergers is an easy way out to escape their liability. The elected governments are more than willing to bail them out from criminal charges. The tall claims of democracy and human rights professed by the democratically elected governments fade into thin air in times of disasters like Bhopal. It is difficult to accept but the corporates now rule the world. Despite Bhopal, efforts are on to put corporate crimes beyond the preview of any legal jurisdiction. The irony is, the biggest democracy called India is about to endorse this through passing of Nuclear Liability Bill.