Bhopal Crises: Symbol of a Reconfigured World Order

Nupur Mittal


    In Bhopal, India, on 4th December 1984, deadly toxic gases – primarily methyl isocyanite –
(MIC), leaked from the pesticide plant of the American multinational, the Union Carbide
company. Between 5000 and 10,000 people living in the vicinity died immediately and about
60,000 sustained serious injuries, with the death toll rising in the following years.1 The Bhopal
gas tragedy and the crisis that came in its wake were shaped by changes in the economic and
political structures of the world caused by the onset of a neoliberal global capitalist regime.
    The Union Carbide company, a US multinational, set up a pesticide plant in India in 1969,
hoping to cater to the substantial Indian market for pesticides during the heyday of the World
Bank and the Rockefeller foundation-supported Green revolution.2 Welcoming the company’s
claims that it would introduce technological innovations that would help spur Indian
agricultural productivity, the government exempted it from the rule that foreign companies
could own no more than a 40% stake in Indian businesses. The U.C.C. retained 51%
ownership, and did not have to negotiate any governmental interference in drawing up and
implementing technical and safety designs at the plant (Mukherjee 139). When they began to
face losses, they compromised on safety measures, and disaster followed (Mukherjee 140). The
Indian government, in order to maintain an investor friendly image, and threatened by the U.S.
government with the ‘Special 301’ trade provisions, could not (or would not) bring the M.N.C.
to court. The U.C.C. refused to accept any liability and after a protracted legal battle, got away
with a measly compensation package of $470 million (Mukherjee 143). Meanwhile, the
fallouts from the disaster continue to affect the environment and the people – the victims and
their descendants – more than three decades after the original leakage, augmented by both
the actions and inactions of the gove


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