THE AGE, AUSTRALIA
By Rajeshree Sisodia, New Delhi
April 10, 2006
SURVIVORS of the world’s worst industrial disaster are to begin an indefinite worldwide hunger strike.
Victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, which claimed the lives of thousands of people more than 20 years ago when toxic chemicals leaked from a Union Carbide plant in central India, will begin their protest in Delhi tomorrow.
They are due to be joined in their struggle by supporters in the United States and Britain.
Last month some survivors marched 790 kilometres from Bhopal to Delhi to galvanise support from the Indian Government.
The call for an indefinite hunger strike comes after repeated attempts by campaigners to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in recent weeks proved fruitless.
Though survivors have met a handful of senior ministers, the protesters’ pleas for Delhi to black-list the American pharmaceutical giant Dow, which took control of Union Carbide in 2001, have fallen on deaf ears.
The Bhopal gas tragedy claimed the lives of more than 8000 men, women and children. Faulty valves allowed about 40 tonnes of a lethal cocktail of gases, including methyl isocyanate, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, to leak from a tank in the plant in Madhya Pradesh on December 3, 1984.
Campaigners claim another 12,000 died in the years that followed and that the disaster continues to poison communities that have no choice but to drink contaminated water.
The now abandoned factory and surrounding area have never been decontaminated. Dow, which last year recorded sales of $US46.3 billion ($A63.8 billion), maintains that it had no involvement in the disaster.
Protesters want the Indian Government, which buys insecticide from Dow, to black-list the company until it agrees to decontaminate the plant, pay for medical monitoring for hundreds of thousands of people in Old Bhopal and for medical relief and rehabilitation for victims.
Both India and the US recognise the “Polluters Pay” principle, an international guideline that states that those who contaminate sites should pay for clean-up work.
Rachna Dhingra, from the victims’ group the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, accused the Indian Government of placing politics above lives.
“The Government can’t black-list Dow because they want foreign investment to come into the country in all circumstances,” she said.
“Bhopalis will go on an indefinite hunger strike. No matter what happens, we will not leave Delhi without getting what we want.”
Campaigners claim that while Dr Singh has ignored their demands, he has twice met Dow chairman Andrew Liveris in the past six months to encourage the company to further invest in the subcontinent.
The US multinational has four subsidiaries and two joint ventures in India, with both Delhi and Dow looking to build on the company’s annual earnings in India of about $US300 million.
Privately, politicians and analysts concede that Delhi will not black-list Dow for fear of setting a dangerous precedent and jeopardising growing foreign investment in India.
Dr Singh has long been heralded as the architect of fiscal reforms that have helped the subcontinent become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.