Nobody can forget the night of December 2, 1984. It was the night when toxic gases from a pesticide company killed more than 15,000 people in Bhopal. While many cases were filed asking for justice for the affected people, who recorded how the  Bhopal tragedy impacted the environment?  

Startling statistics

A recent research paper titled “Industrial Accidents and Environmental Damage in India: A Decade-long Analysis” discusses  the rising environmental damage caused by industrial accidents in India. The study, conducted from 2010 to 2020, shows that India witnessed 560 industrial accidents that resulted in significant environmental damage. The most common forms of environmental harm reported were air and water pollution. Tragically, these accidents led to the loss of approximately 2,500 lives and caused injuries to another 8,500 individuals.  

Unreported cases

However, the authors, Lavanya Suresh from BITS Pilani and Mousami Prasad from IIT Kanpur said to businessline that this dataset is very conservative as the the availability and documentation of data limits the estimates, so it’s highly likely that there are many unreported cases.  

India’s rapid industrialization has significantly contributed to its economic growth and employment rates. However, the research paper raises concerns about the increasing number of industrial accidents and their adverse effects on human lives and the environment.   

Database maintenance

The research paper emphasizes the necessity of maintaining and regularly updating a national-level database to track environmental damage from industrial accidents. “One reason for neglecting these accidents is the lack of systematic recording and reporting,” Suresh said. “Even though there are provisions for companies to report injuries or deaths, they don’t provide detailed information about the accidents themselves. Additionally, there has been limited attention to man-made disasters compared to natural disasters. It’s only in recent years that there has been some progress in acknowledging and reporting these accidents, but there is still a long way to go,” she added.  

Such a database would not only aid in understanding the scale of the problem but also signal India’s commitment to sustainable manufacturing growth. Prasad said that to mitigate the risks associated with industrial growth and ensure sustainable manufacturing, policymakers must enforce safety measures, promote community awareness of potential risks, and establish mechanisms for holding organizations accountable for human and environmental damage caused by accidents.  

Balancing growth and safety

The findings significantly affect public policy, company managers, and civil society. With the manufacturing sector projected to contribute substantially to India’s economic output, controlling and reducing environmental damage caused by industrial accidents. The study highlights the need for stricter safety regulations, improved awareness, and accountability mechanisms to ensure the well-being of workers, communities, and the environment.   

Suresh said, “It’s important to highlight that even smaller incidents can have substantial consequences for local environments and communities. However, the attention given to these incidents is often inadequate. The focus tends to be on the immediate and visible impacts, rather than conducting comprehensive impact studies. This lack of sustained reporting and detailed assessment further contributes to the neglect of environmental damages caused by industrial accidents.”  

Bhopal gas tragedy case

For instance, in the  Bhopal gas tragedy case, reports found that the mercury levels when the gas leak took place were between 20,000 and 6 million ppm. More than 2,000 animals were dead from the effects of the gas and were disposed of together in the nearby river. Even after decades, samples from around the site contained chlorinated benzene compounds and organochlorine pesticides, which were 561 times higher than the national standard. According to several reports, the groundwater levels are reported to have toxicity levels around 40% higher than the Indian safety standards and even higher than the standards specified by the World Health Organization.  

The research suggests that accountability and safety standards within organizations are critical to mitigating industrial accidents and their environmental repercussions.   


The paper proposes recommendations for policymakers and company managers to ensure sustainable manufacturing growth. These include enforcing appropriate safety measures, engaging in community awareness programs regarding the risks associated with industrial operations, and taking responsibility for human and environmental damage in the event of an accident.