Thaindian news, February 18th, 2008
Bhopal, Feb 18 (IANS) Bhopal gas tragedy victims and their supporters are set to begin a march to Delhi Wednesday to press for their demand that include the constitution of an empowered commission to plan and carry out their rehabilitation. “The padyatra (march) will start from here on Wednesday and will culminate in Delhi on March 23 after passing through five states in 33 days. In Delhi, they will stage a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar,” Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group of Information and Action (BGIA), an NGO participating in the march, told reporters Monday.
The other participating NGOs include Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmachari Sangh and Bhopal Gas Peedit Purush Evam Mahila Sangathan. They are demanding that the prime minister direct the setting up of an empowered commission for the long-term medical care and rehabilitation of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims and their children.
“The organisations have suggested the names of P.M. Bhargava, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, Sneh Bhargav, former director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, and eight other scientists, social workers and former government officials as representatives of the Bhopal survivors in the commission,” said Rashida Bi, another activist.
“In addition to the empowered commission on Bhopal, we demand that the prime minister direct the ministries of external affairs, agriculture, industries and chemical & fertilisers to take legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical,” she said.
In December 1984, more than 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate and other poisonous gases spewed out of Union Carbide’s pesticide plant, killing over 3,000 people instantly. Several thousand others were maimed for life and more than 15,000 people have died since then.
The victims’ demands include revoking the approval to Reliance Industries to purchase Union Carbide’s Unipol technology, extradition of authorised Union Carbide Corporation representatives and cancelling the registration of four pesticides that Dow obtained licences for by allegedly paying bribes.
They want Dow Chemicals, its present owner, to pay for cleaning up hazardous waste in Bhopal and pay compensation for health and environmental damages caused due to the chemical contamination of soil and ground water.
The groups had undertaken a similar march in February-March 2006 and had met the prime minister.
“After our 800 km march, we had to sit on a dharna (sit-in) for 15 days and then go on a hunger strike for six days to meet Manmohan Singh. When he finally met us, he assured us that he will do everything possible to help the victims of Bhopal and all within law to punish Union Carbide and Dow Chemical,” said Rashida.
She alleged that the prime minister had not kept any of his promises.
A coordination committee was formed in June 2006 with representatives from the central and the state government and NGOs to work on issues pertaining to comprehensive rehabilitation of gas victims, provision of clean water and furthering medical research on impact of exposure to methyl isocyanate on survivors.
But Dhingra said that in the one and a half years of its existence, the coordination committee had failed to do anything, mainly due to the state government’s indifference.