Bhopal Tragedy: Some Politically Incorrect Facts

The Indian government had its heavy hand on every aspect of the Bhopal plant, from its design and construction to its eventual operation. Initially, the facility merely imported raw pesticides, such as one called Sevin, and then diluted, packaged and shipped them. This was a relatively safe and simple operation. But, in accordance with industrial policy, Union Carbide was under constant pressure from the government to cut imports and reduce the loss of foreign exchange. To do this, Carbide was required by its state-issued operating license to transfer to the Bhopal facility the capability to manufacture the basic pesticides and, subsequently, even their ingredients. Everything was to be “Swadeshi.” i.e. “Indianized.” Even the chemical production processes used in Bhopal were developed by Indian researchers .

To produce Sevin, carbon tetrachloride is mixed with alpha-naphthol and a chemical known as methyl isocyanate, or MIC (the chemical that leaked in the accident). Liquid MIC is a highly unstable and volatile chemical, and a deadly toxin. . . . MIC was not required in Bhopal while the factory simply packaged Sevin, its final product. But the logic of “industrial self-sufficiency” and “technology transfer” required the manufacture of Sevin from scratch—and that meant dealing with its hazardous ingredients, including MIC.

So in 1971, the Union Carbide factory opened a small plant to manufacture alpha-naphthol, and began to import and store MIC—a chemical which never had to be in India in the first place, except to satisfy the Indian government.

In 1977, based upon projections of growing demand, the Bhopal factory began to increase its alpha-naphthol facilities dramatically. A new $2.5 million plant—designed, of course, by an Indian consulting firm—was built. Ten times larger than most similar plants, it at once displayed design problems of scale: equipment would not work or would turn out to be the wrong size. Ultimately, faced with an inoperable alpha-naphthol facility, the factory’s management decided to [open an MIC production facility in 1980].

What had begun as a Carbide subsidiary for packaging pesticides was now a government-directed business manufacturing and storing a deadly chemical in a technologically backward culture. Those were not business decisions. Those were political decisions.

One last element of government policy helped lay the groundwork for the pending disaster. The area around the plant had been deserted at the time Carbide moved in. But in 1975 the local government, in a re-zoning scheme, encouraged thousands of Indians to settle near the plant by giving them construction loans and other inducements. In effect, government first helped to make the plant unsafe, and then drew the people into the path of the coming gas cloud.

Add to all this the fact that after the plant was opened, the technologically trained Americans who built and ran it were sent packing and were replaced by under-educated locals—most of them friends, relatives, and cronies of local officials. They allowed operations to continue despite the fact that all five redundant safety systems had been broken for months. One of the incompetents let water from a hose leak for hours into one of the chemical tanks, which caused a dangerous reaction. The night-shift employees were all sipping tea in the lunch room while gauges indicating rising gas pressure in the tank went off the top of the scale—allowing a pipe to rupture and gush deadly gas into the sleeping community nearby.

No, the Bhopal disaster was not the result of American capitalism: no American capitalists were permitted to be present at or in control of the plant. The gas leak was instead the result of technology decisions and subsidies directed by politicians.

Source: “Bhopal: The Fruit of Industrial Policy,” July 19, 1985 The Intellectual Activist, Vol. 4, No. 2 later excerpted by the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 3, 1986.

Conclusion

If you know justice is blind, and if you still believe blindly that Greedy Corporate American Pigs are the root of all evil, investigate the above claims for yourself. Use your Freedom of Information Act, 2002 and you will find that Government policies can also be the root of some evil.

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