NEW DELHI, 26 March, 2006 — More than 600 people took out a rally to the Parliament Street in New Delhi concluding an 800km march from Bhopal to New Delhi by 39 Bhopalis, demanding justice and a life of dignity for people poisoned by American multinational Union Carbide. Starting today, the Bhopalis will be on dharna (demonstration) until their demands are met.
The Bhopalis were joined by representatives from a pollution-impacted community in Daurala, silicosis victims from among quarry workers in Lalkuan, cycle rickshaw drivers association, workers from Wazirpur, students from Delhi University and JNU, Narmada Bachao Andolan activists, and trade unions and NGOs.
Despite more than a month’s notice to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Bhopalis have yet to receive an appointment to meet Mr. Manmohan Singh. The PMO and Sonia Gandhi’s offices have assured them of an appointment between 27 and 31 March.
“It is unfortunate that the Government treats our life and death issues so casually. We are tired of repeating the same demands for 21 years and returning with empty promises from successive prime ministers. This time, we will not return to Bhopal with mere promises; we will leave Delhi only after all our six demands are fulfilled,” said Goldman award winner and survivor-activist Champa Devi Shukla.
Champa Devi was part of a 100-women delegation that marched from Bhopal to Delhi in June 1989 to meet then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They returned with promises that remain unfulfilled to date.
Bhopal is the site of a second ongoing disaster. More than 20,000 people are being forced to drink water contaminated by chemicals leaking from the abandoned Union Carbide factory – a May 2004 Supreme Court order directing the Madhya Pradesh Government to provide clean water has to date been ignored. In 2001, a scientific study found high levels of toxic contaminants, including mercury, in mother’s milk in the water-affected communities. Large numbers of children in these communities are born with birth defects.
The 800-km march and subsequent sit-in in New Delhi is prompted by a growing closeness between the Government of India and Union Carbide’s owner Dow Chemical. Also, as summer approaches, the water-affected communities are particularly concerned about the drinking water situation. “It doesn’t take much to provide us drinking water. Every day, we hear about mega industrial investments. How is it that they find water for industries when they can’t find any for the country’s poor?” asks an irate Shameem Ahmad, a resident of Atal Ayub Nagar, where scientists found extremely high levels of trichlorobenzene and mercury in the water from community handpumps.
Survivors are also agitated that the Prime Minister has personally directed the Planning Commission to take steps to facilitate investments by Dow Chemical in India. Incidentally, the Prime Minister has met the CEO of Dow Chemical twice, including in March 2006, when the latter visited India as part of a 10-member CEO delegation that accompanied US President George Bush.