Bhopal: Over 100 victims of the Bhopal gas disaster have threatened to sit on a hunger strike in New Delhi if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not heed their demands to provide relief to the survivors of the 1984 industrial tragedy.
The survivors, who set off on a 900-km foot march from the now-defunct Union Carbide pesticide plant here to the Indian capital, are demanding the prime minister’s intervention in ensuring “justice and a life of dignity for themselves and their ilk”.
The survivors, slated to reach New Delhi Saturday, will submit their six-point charter of demands to Manmohan Singh.
“We expect to meet the prime minister any day between March 27 and March 31,” said Rachna Dhingra, of the Bhopal Group for Information & Action (BGIA), which is leading the march.
Speaking to IANS by phone from Faridabad, bordering Delhi, where they are taking out a rally in association with the local unit of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), she said: “In case the prime minister fails to listen to us we will sit on an indefinite hunger strike.”
BGIA is an organisation of gas survivors. Three other similar bodies joining the march are: Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (BGPMSKS), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (BGPMPSM) and Bhopal Ki Aawaaz (BKA).
The marchers include survivors up to 70 years age. There are also some teenagers who live in the localities and areas affected by ground water contamination caused by the leak of over 40 tonnes of lethal methyl iso cyanate gas from the Union Carbide’s pesticide plant on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984. The leak, which killed an estimated 20,000 people and maimed several thousands for life, is described as one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
According to the organisations, ground water samples collected near the Union Carbide plant have shown contamination levels 10 times higher than in other areas. High levels of heavy metals such as nickel, chromium, mercury, lead and other toxic materials have also been found in the soil.
“Mercury and lead contamination have found their way into the breast milk of those living in the gas-affected localities near the Carbide plant. Many pregnant women aborted while many had still born births,” claimed Satinath Shadangi, BGIA president, citing studies.
“We are taking out this march to remind the prime minister that the condition of the people affected by the tragedy has not improved. They are still drinking poison. We want him to know that his intervention is required to provide relief to the people,” he said.
He said the gas leak had led to “menstrual chaos amongst girls and women” with menopause coming to them at age 27 to 30.
“Our demands include immediate supply of safe water to the communities suffering from ground water contamination, speedy prosecution of Union Carbide Corporation and its officials and blacklisting of Dow Chemical (which bought Union Carbide in 2001) till it pays for environmental and health damages caused due to reckless dumping of hazardous wastes, besides setting up of a National Commission on Bhopal for long term medical care, research and economic and social rehabilitation of the victims,” said Champa Devi Shukla, who leads BGPMSKS.
“The Bhopal disaster must be made part of educational curricula and a memorial to the disaster victims should be erected,” said Rashida Bi.
Thousands of survivors, including those born after the disaster, are still battling the after effects of the deadly leak – from illnesses ranging from deep psychiatric disorders, stunted growth and severe gynaecological problems in the case of women.