Bhopalis Blame PMO of Iron-Curtain Attitude to Transparency

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
NEW DELHI, 24 JUNE, 2008 — “The Prime Minister’s Office is stonewalling the Right to Information requests filed by representatives of Bhopal victims for a malafide purpose,” three Bhopal-based survivor and support organisations said today. At least three complaints are lying in the Central Information Commission against a range of violations by the Public Information Officer of the Prime Minister’s Office. The complaints filed against the PMO blame the highest executive office in the country of fraudulently removing important sections from files given for inspection, delaying the provision of requested photocopies and for disregarding the claim for information within two days under the Life and Liberty clause without providing any reasons for denial.
An RTI application filed invoking the Life and Liberty clause by Satinath Sarangi on 13 June C the 4th day of an indefinite hunger strike undertaken by 9 Bhopal activists C has not elicited any response till date. The application sought a time to inspect Bhopal-related files in the PMO, and has sought a copy of the register containing the identities of persons who met the Prime Minister since February 20, when 50 Bhopalis set off on their epic 800-km march to New Delhi. Repeated requests since January 2008 by Bhopal survivors and their representatives for an appointment with the PM have met with silence from the PMO. “Getting a list of people that the PM actually had the time to meet is critical to understanding where we stand in Dr. Singh’s scheme of things. But this list has been denied to us,” said Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
Having failed to hear from the PMO in the stipulated time C by June 18 — Sarangi filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission on 20 June highlighting an earlier CIC decision that rules that hunger strikes, despite being a voluntary act, constitute a threat to life and liberty. A urinalysis done on samples taken from the 9 hunger strikers on 22 June revealed the presence of moderate to high levels of ketones in five samples. “The presence of ketones is worrisome as it is indicative of an advanced state of fasting and shows that the body is undergoing starvation,” said Dr. Rakhal Gaitonde, a public health specialist with Bangalore-based Community Health Cell.
“The Prime Minister’s Office is a habitual offender with respect to the Right to Information. They have perverted the spirit of the Act and rendered the Life or liberty clause meaningless, even while lakhs of Bhopalis are waiting for a nod from him to signal that justice will be done for Union Carbide’s victims,” said Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha and Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
An earlier request filed on 16 April, also for inspection invoking the life and liberty clause, got a response only on 9 May. However, the PMO has failed to provide photocopies of the pages requested despite repeated reminders as recently as on 23 June.
This is part of the overall scheme of protection accorded by the PMO to Dow Chemical and Union Carbide. Despite all the talk about transparency, the PMO remains the strongest practitioner of an iron-curtain mentality to sharing information, the groups charged. The PMO files contain minutes of the 17 April Group of Ministers meeting which strongly endorsed the demands of the Bhopalis. “Publishing these minutes will strongly strengthen our stance, and help end the hunger strike by catalysing a resolution in our favour,” said 24-year old hunger striker Sanjay Verma. Sanjay, who was an infant at the time of the disaster, lost 7 members, including his parents, to the gas leak in 1984.
The Bhopalis have demanded a Special Empowered Commission for rehabilitation of Union Carbide’s victims, including future generations, and that legal action be taken against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical.
For more information, contact:
Satinath Sarangi: 9717516003

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