In India, environmental laws can be lax, and industries and people have often flouted them. Although the rivers Ganga and Yamuna were recently declared to be legal entities and now have the same legal rights as a human being, the pollution in the two rivers is there for all to see. But in the past, several environmental disasters have been the result of poor laws, inefficient management, and sometimes, just pure oversight. These 5 environmental disasters are just an example of the damage humans have wreaked on the environment, and people:
The Bhopal Gas Disaster
Victims of the Bhopal gas disaster demanding the extradition of Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson from the US. Anderson died in 2014.
In December 1984, the world’s worst industrial disaster took place in Bhopal. Over 5 lakh people were exposed to the deadly methyl isocyanate gas that leaked from the Union Carbide plant, and official records show at least 3,500 people died immediately. But the toll did not end there. The long-term health effects of the gas leak included deformities in newborn babies and immune deficiencies. The soil and the groundwater in the area continues to be polluted, with drinking water samples from the locality showing 500 times more contamination than maximum limits suggested by WHO. Not just that, the victims had to fight a long legal battle to win compensation.
The Bhopal gas disaster has also been depicted in several works of art, including the Booker-shortlisted Animal’s People by Indra Sinha.
The Indian vulture crisis
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, wildlife researchers across India came upon a terrible phenomenon: vultures were dying at an alarming rate, with some species showing a drop of population by up to 90 percent! In 2003, the cause of the decline was identified: a common cattle painkiller known as Diclofenac, used by millions of Indian farmers to treat their cattle. Vultures are nature’s most efficient scavengers, but the drug is fatal to them, and millions of birds died after scavenging on carcasses. So much so, that the population of the White-billed vulture fell by 99.7 percent between 1993 and 2002. Vulture populations have continued to decline in India at a rate of between 20 to 40 percent every year since 2007!
Kodaikanal mercury poisoning
One of the most well-documented cases of industrial pollution in the world, the Unilever group faced severe legal action when their thermometer-making factory in the hills on Tamil Nadu began to have adverse effects on the health of their workers and on the environment around the plant. Workers began complaining of health problems, and it was discovered that the plant had dumped glass waste contaminated with the highly toxic mercury in the forests around the plant. The case is still ongoing in the Madras High Court, and rapper Sofia Ashraf’s Kodaikanal Won’t resulted in a worldwide coverage of the pollution.
Endosulfan poisoning in Kerala
A pesticide that is being phased out globally, Endosulfan is a highly toxic chemical that accumulates in the environment even years later. The poisonings were first highlighted in the Kasargod district of Kerala, where the pesticide had been used for years in the cashew plantations. The pesticide devastated the biodiversity of the region, and in early 2017, the Supreme Court directed the Kerala government to compensate over 5,000 victims, mostly newborns, and their families.
Malayalam writer Ambikasutan Mangad’s bestselling novel Swarga describes the devastating effects of the pesticide in the district.
Bellandur lake pollution
Bellandur lake was once Bangalore’s largest lake, and now its biggest problem. Once a bountiful lake that supported fishermen and farmers on its banks, in May 2015, the toxic foam from the sewage that pollutes it caught fire! Untreated sewage water is dumped into the lake, including effluent from factories, and now, the once-pristine lake is a water body covered with foam. Of course, no fish live in the lake any longer. And Bangalore residents still have to live with the lake and its polluted waters.