28 MARCH, 2008. NEW DELHI – Marking two years since their last padayatra from Bhopal to Delhi, 50 people, including survivors of the 1984 gas tragedy, their children, people exposed to contaminated drinking water and their suupporters, today concluded their second 800 km march by walking from Nizamuddin park to Jantar Mantar. “We were forced to undertake this grueling walk because the PM failed to keep his word. This time, we are not going back until we get a public declaration from him that he will deliver on his promise,” said Hazra Bee, a survivor and one of the padayatris.
The PMO has rejected a request for an appointment with the PM, and two further requests have not elicited a reply. However,international support for the survivors is pouring in. More than 1300 faxes from 18 countries have already reached the PMO, prompting officials there to threaten survivors with legal action. Yesterday, members of the Scottish parliament marched to the Indian embassy in Edinburgh, even as other Bhopal supporters in London went to the Indian embassy there to submit a memorandum urging the Prime Minister to meet the Bhopalis’ demands.
On April 16, 2006, the Prime Minister ended a 21 day strike, including a 6-day hunger strike by the Bhopalis, by promising to meet the demands of the survivors. The survivors had demanded an empowered Commission to implement social, medical and economic rehabilitation schemes for survivors and their children, in addition to cleaning up Union Carbide’s toxic wastes, providing clean water to water-affected communities, and taking legal action against Dow Chemical and Union Carbide. However, the PM suggested a Coordinating Committee to oversee implementation of rehabilitation schemes and environmental remediation.
Over the last two years, the Coordination Committee has had three meetings and accomplished nothing. More than 25,000 people continue to consume poison-tainted groundwater in the absence of reliable and good quality water supply. More than 5000 tons of toxic wastes remain buried and spread in and around the factory site, and no efforts have been taken to contain them or export them to the US for final disposal. No rehabilitation schemes have been implemented.
Government inaction on rehabilitation and environmental remediation has placed Bhopalis at the receiving end of two disasters – the 1984 gas leak and the ongoing water contamination — both with pronounced effects on children and future generations. Despite a 1991 Supreme Court order directing the Government to extend insurance benefits to 100,000 gas-affected children, not one child has been covered, leading to a spurt in destitution among families with sick children. In contamination-affected communities, congenital deformities among newborns is a rising trend.
The future generations are in danger. That, say Bhopal survivors, is why any Commission that is set up has to execute its schemes over at least 30 years. The Bhopalis estimate that the Government needs to invest in a corpus of Rs. 2000 crore to provide an annual budget of Rs. 100 crores for the Commission throughout its term.
In contrast to the inaction on Bhopal, the Government has, in the last two years, openly advanced the cause of Dow Chemical and Union Carbide. Information unearthed from the PMO through RTI indicates that ambassador Ronen Sen, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Ratan Tata, P. Chidambaram and Kamalnath have all written letters supporting Dow Chemical. In response, the Cabinet Secretary has suggested exonerating Dow Chemical keeping in mind the scope of investments by Dow and other US companies in India.
In less than a decade, Dow Chemical has chalked up an impressive list of violations of law and due process. In February 2007, Dow caught for paying more than Rs. 80 lakhs in bribes to Indian agriculture ministry officials to register three toxic pesticides. In 2005, Indian Oil revoked a technology deal with Dow after it found out that Dow was trying to sell Union Carbide’s technology by lying that it was its own. Recently, Dow has managed to convince Government of India to approve the sale of Union Carbide’s technology to Reliance Industries despite the fact that a 1992 court order directs the Government to confiscate all Union Carbide’s assets in India.
“This is a repeat of the betrayal of 1989 where the Government colluded with Union Carbide to shortchange the people of Bhopal on the compensation settlement,” said Satinath Sarangi, another padayatri and a long-time Bhopal activist from Bhopal Group for Information and Action. “23,000 people have died, and the collusion still continues. We’re determined to break this corporate-Government nexus that plays havoc with people’s lives.”
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