20 years after Bhopal, he's still hoping for justice

Saptarshi Bhattacharya
CHENNAI: In 1984 when he was just eight, Shahid Noor barely managed to survive the Bhopal gas tragedy, which claimed the lives of his parents and an elder brother. Two decades on, the wounds have yet to heal.
He is one of thousands of children orphaned by the biggest industrial disaster known to India.
While he suffered from respiratory and other ailments, his siblings who survived the calamity were afflicted with loss of vision and skin diseases. Noor is angry that even after 20 years Bhopal’s citizens are exposed to the toxic chemicals at the abandoned Union Carbide factory. Union Carbide is the company responsible for the gas leak.
Noor was in Chennai last week to kick off a campaign against Indian Oil Corporation for its proposed business dealings with Dow Chemicals, a U.S.-based company that acquired Union Carbide in 2001.
Contaminated water
The legal battles are on but the toxic wastes generated by Union Carbide during the routine operation of its factory have leached into the groundwater as well. “The groundwater in 14 villages on the outer side of the factory has gone bad,” Noor said. “It is no better on the city side, but we at least get piped supply.” In May 2004, the Supreme Court ordered the Madhya Pradesh Government to provide clean and safe drinking water to the communities but the administration has yet to act on it, he said.
The people who have been affected by the groundwater contamination did not get compensation because they were not victims of the gas leak, he said. “The two are different issues but related to the mischief of the same company.”
Noor, who now heads an organisation of 19 Bhopal disaster orphans, is angry with the way the Government has handled the affected people. Eight years after the disaster, a fraction of the compensation secured from Union Carbide was distributed among the survivors and the kin of those who died.
“They [Union Carbide] should clean up the toxins from the land and groundwater. They should also provide for the long-term treatment and rehabilitation of the survivors,” he said. The company should arrange for the economic rehabilitation of survivors who have lost their livelihood, he said. The survivors in Bhopal have grouped together to kick off a ‘Neend Udao’ (Break their Sleep) campaign to push for these demands.
He suggested the setting up of an ‘ayog’ (commission) to look into the provision of medical facilities and employment opportunities for the survivors and steps to clean up the area. With aid from individuals around the world, a Sambhavna Trust Clinic has been opened to treat survivors.
“After 20 years, we are still fighting for a better life because we still have hope,” he said.
(In the interests of accuracy this article has been corrected and translated into English by bhopal.net)

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