BHOPAL, 1 June 2005: The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal today expressed its outrage at the blatant disrespect for public safety and human rights as evidenced by photographs of workers (Please see footnote 1) sweeping up toxic wastes inside the abandoned Union Carbide factory site.
Far from being equipped with the mandatory Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required when dealing with highly toxic wastes, the two migrant workers are visibly defenceless, and worse, accompanied by a barefooted child.
This hasty clean up exercise has been initiated by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) and the Bhopal Gas Relief Cell in preparation for an above-surface containment of the stockpiles of the toxic chemicals that have been lying inside the factory for over two decades.
According to various sources, the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board is keen to finish the first phase of the clean-up by June 20th 2005 before the onset of this monsoon. An order to this effect has been made by the Jabalpur high court.
Rashida Bee of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh said, “We are outraged at the State and Central governments’ unsafe plans to dispose of the hazardous chemical waste in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. They seem intent on creating yet another disaster in Bhopal.”
“The fact that the MPPCB and the Bhopal Gas Relief Cell have chosen to expose migrant labourers to these deadly toxins is a double injustice,” asserted Madhumita Dutta of the Corporate Accountability Desk, The Other Media, “It seems to be a deliberate ploy to ensure that these workers, and the certain impact on their health, can never be traced after the so-called safe containment is completed. Is this the government’s understanding of accountability?”
“The clean up of the factory site has been a long-pending demand of the Bhopal community and environmental groups, but this callously undertaken exercise is a far cry from the best practices that we expected the government to follow,” said Vinuta Gopal, Toxics Campaigner, Greenpeace India, “The authorities are already in possession of scientific reports and technical guidelines (See footnote 2) for cleaning up the hazardous materials to the best possible standards, and of the high risks involved in a cleanup that does not conform to safety practices. What possible excuse can they have for this criminal disregard for the safety of the workers and the community?”
Ironically, the above-ground containment of the wastes was the only phase of the three-phase proposal that environmental groups had considered acceptable. The second and third phase of the cleanup protocols, especially the proposal to set up a ‘secured landfill’ have come under severe criticism from several quarters. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) will be taking up the issue with the Special Task Force for the clean up that has been constituted by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, as also with the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers.
The hasty clean-up and medieval technology being employed by the MPPCB runs counter to Government of India’s earlier position: On June 23rd 2004 the Government of India, in a communication to US authorities, clearly stated that the ‘No-Objection’ given by the Government of India grants consent to a US Court, where Union Carbide faces a class action suit brought by survivors, to direct the corporation to clean up the mess it left behind in its plant in Bhopal.
The ICJB is calling on the MPPCB and the Bhopal Gas Relief Cell to call an immediate halt to the dangerous clean up process, until the following demands have been met:
1. That the clean-up plans and protocols be made public immediately and that the government demonstrates a clear mechanism to recover costs from UC.
2. The government should give further positive support to the Class Action Suit in New York to which they already given the “no objection” certification, and hold Union Carbide liable for all costs of a thorough clean-up operation carried out to world standards.
3. That the authorities will allow independent experts, community representatives and NGOs to monitor the containment to ensure complete transparency and accountability, best safety standards for the workers and the communities living around the factory site.
1. Photographs available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/
See also https://www.bhopal.net/clean_up_index.html
2. “Technical Guidelines for the Clean up of the Union Carbide Site” available online at http://www.greenpeaceindia.org/
3. For further documents, reports and updates from Bhopal, please continue to visit this website, www.bhopal.net
For further information, please contact:
Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk
Rachna Dhingra, International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
+91 982 6167369,
+91 944 4082401
Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace India