Bhopal padayatra reaches Guna; survivors condemn Maharashtra police action against anti-Dow villagers

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Guna, Madhya Pradesh & New Delhi. 28 Feb. 08 — Nine days and nearly 200 km into their march from Bhopal to New Delhi, Bhopal gas tragedy survivors today addressed a press conference at Guna, M.P. They condemned the Central and Maharashtra State Government for their support to the business plans of Union Carbide – which was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster – and its new owner Dow Chemical.
Last night, more than 1000 villagers gathered at the site of a proposed Dow R&D facility in Shinde Vasuli, near Pune, and cut off access for trucks carrying construction material to the site in the face of intense police mobilization. The blockade continues despite the arrests of more than 150 villagers. Ten days ago, the villagers voluntarily lifted a month-old blockade honouring an assurance by the Collector that construction work will not commence until an expert committee clarifies the nature of work to be carried out by Dow at the site. Villagers claim Dow has illegally occupied village land. “Going by Dow Chemical’s track record of polluting and evading liability, notably in Bhopal, we are determined to not allow them to repeat their destruction in our village. Starting today, people working with Dow will receive no food or water from any of the neighbouring villages,” declared the 15-village Bhamchandragarh Bachao Warkari Shetkari Sangarsh Samiti (Save Bhamchandragarh Farmers Agitation Committee). Led by Justice (Retd) Kholse Patil, the Samiti has the support of Punekars organized under the banner “Kick Dow Out; Save Pune” campaign.
“The behaviour of the Maharashtra Government is deplorable. As if arresting people with legitimate concerns were not enough, the Government is openly siding with a company that is sheltering Union Carbide, has bribed Indian officials, has lied to prospective partners, and refused to clean up the contamination in Bhopal,” said Syed M. Irfan, of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Samiti.
Fifty people, including gas tragedy survivors, water contamination-affected people and their supporters, are on an 800 km march seeking to meet the Prime Minister and remind him of his unkept promises. In 2006, Bhopal residents had trekked to Delhi and forced the Prime Minister to accept their demands for special action towards social, economic and medical rehabilitation, provision of clean drinking water and legal action against the offending corporations. However, the Prime Minister has done virtually nothing to meet his promise. A coordination committee to oversee the implementation of the PM’s promise failed to achieve anything over the last two years. “The Committee could make recommendations, but it had no powers to force the State Government to implement the recommendations,” said second-time walker Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. “Ordinary committees will not do. We will not return from Delhi this time unless the PM sets up a specially empowered commission to address the rehabilitation issues in Bhopal.”
Already, international pressure against the Indian Government’s hardline stance against Bhopal survivors is mounting. More than 500 faxes from at least 14 countries has flooded the PMO. Actions and demonstrations at various Indian embassies and consulates are planned. Students at IIT Madras and Kanpur have contributed more than Rs. 15000 towards expenses for the march.
Guna was chosen as an important stop en route because the presence of heavy industries there. The small city in Madhya Pradesh hosts two major hazardous installations, including a fertilizer factory, and a transit terminal of GAIL’s petroleum pipeline from Hazira, Gujarat.

For more information, contact:
Rachna Dhingra (Guna): 09826167369
Shalini Sharma (New Delhi): 011 26195534
Nityanand Jayaraman: 0944482401

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