From: Sanjay Kumar, The Diplomat
Published December 22, 2009 06:51 AM

The Legacy of Bhopal

Twenty-five years on, campaigners say the world's worst-ever industrial accident is still claiming victims. Sanjay Kumar visits Bhopal in India and speaks to the locals who say their government has failed them badly.

Bhopal is a beautiful city. Located about 750 kilometres south of Delhi and surrounded by lakes and lush greenery, Old and New Bhopal are a fascinating and thriving combination of Islamic and Hindu architecture vying for space in a city founded about 1000 years ago.

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But perched a little away from the old and new cities is a quite different face of Bhopal. Here in Jayaprakash Nagar, or JP ith potholes and the lanes are dusty and unkempt. For this is a place that many want to forget--the location of the Union Carbide Plant, the scene of the world's worst-ever industrial disaster.

Twenty-five years ago, in the early hours of December 3, deadly methyl isocyanate and other toxins leaked from the plant, exposing hundreds of thousands to the poisonous gas. Although no official total casualty count has been released, estimates based on hospital and rehabilitation records suggest that more than 25,000 people died either as a direct result of the gas leak or from diseases related to it, while tens of thousands more have reported being sick.

"I think it would have been better if we'd died that night," says Leela Bai. "At least then I wouldn't have had to see my children in such a miserable condition."

Leela's daughter, Renu, was a year old when the gas leak occurred. She survived the incident, but has suffered the after-effects ever since. Her face became bloated, her hair grew thinner and she developed an abnormal growth near her stomach.

Renu eventually married, but her first husband left her after their first child was born because her poor health prevented her from performing daily chores. Her brother, meanwhile, could not escape the effects of the leak despite being born four years after the disaster. Even at 22 he's more like a teenager, with both his physical and mental growth having been stunted.

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