National Pollution Control Day is observed on December 2 every year in memory of those who suffered and lost their lives in the horrific Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984. The fateful incident occurred due to the accidental discharge of the toxic chemical gas Methyl Isocyanate and other toxic gases from the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal on the night of December 2, 1984.

More than five lakh people got exposed to the toxic gases and at least 4,000 were killed in the following days. Thousands more died due to the effects of the gas leak in subsequent years. The survivors have increased rates of cancer and birth defects, and suffer from a compromised immune system.

Significance and objectives

This year marks the 36th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, listed by the International Labour Organization as among the world’s major industrial accidents in the last century. National Pollution Control Day is observed as a reminder of the extent of damage environmental degradation through air, water and soil pollution can have on human life. The day is about raising awareness and public conscience with regards to the ecology and its protection from human activities.

Among the acknowledged objectives of the day is to educate people on the management and control of industrial disasters, prevent pollution caused by industrial processes or human negligence and create awareness about the importance of pollution control laws.

Relevance today

Over the past few years, the discussion on matters of pollution, particularly air pollution, has gained prominence. Every winter, scenes of the national capital Delhi and other big Indian cities wrapped in a thick blanket of smog flash on TV screens and newspapers. Dust, industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust gasses bring a sharp spike in air pollution levels. A lack of resources means local authorities cannot effectively clamp down on illegal industries and strictly enforce emission norms.

In India, long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths, across all age groups, from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases in India in 2019, according to a State of Global Air 2020 report.

The Coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation. Evidence suggests that people with heart and lung conditions are vulnerable to a more severe form of Covid-19. Hence there is a growing concern that exposure to high levels of air pollution during winter months could exacerbate the effects of Covid-19.

Combating pollution

The advancements made in the technology of pollution monitoring can be used to keep a tab on industrial units for emissions and effluents discharged into the environment. Targeted action through the use of data can be done to check industrial emissions. Better enforcement of environmental laws is needed to ensure no repeat of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

A robust push towards cleaner and greener technology in the fields of mobility, electricity generation and consumption, water supply, industrial manufacturing, etc. is another step in combating pollution.

National Pollution Control Day can be counted as an occasion for policymakers and the public to discuss the issue at large and explore new ideas in the fight against pollution.

How the system failed victims of Bhopal gas tragedy & let Union Carbide slip away