After the years of poisoning, the boots, fists and sticks, at last a promise of clean water

Sanno, beaten by police when she and others dared to ask for clean drinking water.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Babu Lal Gaur and his officials have promised clean safe drinking water “very soon” to the people whose drinking supplies have for so many years been poisoned by Union Carbide’s derelict factory. We welcome this news, but cannot help wondering, why has it taken so long?
Nearly 18 months have passed since the Indian Supreme Court ordered safe water to be supplied to those who needed it. The order appeared to have been ignored. After a year of inaction, women and children from the affected areas went in a group to a government office to ask why nothing had been done. The only answer they got was from police sticks and boots. Not long afterwards the Chief Minister was quoted in the press as saying that he would beautify the state’s major cities with gymnasia, badminton courts and public fountains. Somewhere along the line things appear to have slipped into perspective, because the promises made at last week’s meeting appear to be sincere. (See Press Releases) The Chief Minister instructed the Minister responsible for the welfare of Carbide’s victims to supply the water, the Minister in turn complained of the quality of such supplies as are currently being provided and ordered the Mayor of the city to switch to a different source. The government will pick up the bill. We are encouraged by this new positive attitude and hope it will continue for there remain many other issues to be solved.
Much attention has recently been focused on the factory and the piles of lethal chemicals that remain there, causing the groundwater contamination that has been slowly poisoning some 20,000 people, many of whom were already suffering from the effect of Carbide’s 1984 chemical holocaust. The issue of clean water is clearly linked to the need for the factory site to be cleaned up. Here too, survivors found themselves in confrontation with local officials who had begun a hasty and incompetent “clean-up” in response to an order from the High Court in Jabalpur where a case had been lodged widely believed by survivors, and it appears officials too, to be acting as an agent of Dow Chemical.
The case asked that the factory site be remediated by local government and made no attempt to fix liability for the cost of the clean-up on the polluter, Union Carbide, now a wholly integrated part of Dow Chemical. It is not a coincidence that in New York, a class action suit brought by victims of the water poisoning is nearing its climax. The suspicion is that Dow engineered the Jabalpur case as a spoiling tactic. Thanks to the intervention of survivors’ groups in the case, that ploy cannot now succeed, but it has meant that for the last several months, survivors and their supporters have been involved in a series of public battles with local politicians and officials and Dow and Union Carbide, who are the cause of all this suffering and trouble, have escaped attention. That reprieve cannot last, even the blows and kicks suffered by women and children at the hands of the Bhopal police will come at last to haunt the Dow moguls who believe themselves to be above and beyond the reach of justice.

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