Bhopalis Chain Themselves to PM’s Residence, Seeking Justice, Commission for Bhopal

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action

21 May, 2008. NEW DELHI – Forty Bhopal survivors, including 15 children and 23 women, chained themselves to the fence around the Prime Minister’s residence in Race Course demanding speedy resolution of their demands. They are asking for legal action against Union Carbide and Dow, and an empowered Commission for rehabilitation of Bhopal victims. Some such as 11-year old Yasmin Khan are among 50 Bhopalis who reached Delhi on 28 March having walked 800 km from Bhopal. Survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster and victims of water contamination from Bhopal have been on dharna in New Delhi for 55 days. The first request for a meeting with the PM was sent in
Despite the long wait, and more than 3000 faxes that have flooded the Prime Minister’s Office from more than 18 countries, the PMO has refused to give any time frame for resolution of the 23-year
old legacy. “Twenty three years is too long. This is a matter of our lives and liberty, and our children’s health. We are not prepared to wait, and will do what it takes to ensure that the Prime Minister realizes that we, and not American corporations, are his priority,” the survivor organizations said. On May 5, mothers, tired of waiting for the PM to respond, brought children born with congenital deformities to the Prime Minister’s residence. More than 80 of them, including children and babies, were arrested by the Police and later released. According to estimates by the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies, a Madhya Pradesh Government agency, at least one gas victim succumbs to the long-term effects of the toxic gas every day. Other anecdotal evidence and community surveys are revealing that Bhopal’s Generation Next is already suffering the hand-me-down effects of the poisonous gases, and the toxins still found in the groundwater.
The Bhopalis charged the Prime Minister for being personally insensitive to the plight of the victims and their children, and for breaking his promise. In April 2006, the Prime Minister had met a delegation of Bhopal padayatris and promised to do all within his power to rehabilitate them, and all within law to hold the corporations to account. Two years hence, even the simplest demand – of clean water – remains unfulfilled. Meanwhile, rather than take legal action against Dow and Carbide, the Government has actively promoted its investments in India, and shielded the companies from legal fall-out relating to a host of cases including bribery and sale of confiscable goods. In 2007, Dow was fined by US financial regulator – the Securities Exchange Commission – for having bribed Indian agriculture ministry officials for expediting registration of three toxic pesticides. At least one of them is banned in the US. The Government has banned the sale of the illegally registered pesticides be revoked.
In another move, touted as an “encouraging signal” to Dow Chemical, the Government of India has cleared Dow’s sale of Union Carbide’s Unipol technology for Reliance Industries polypropylene plants in Jamnagar. Union Carbide is a proclaimed absconder since 1992 in a criminal case that has been filed by the Indian Government in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal. Carbide was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001, but Dow claims that it only acquired Carbide’s assets and not its liabilities.
Not only has the PMO delayed justice in Bhopal, but it has also actively prevented Bhopalis from learning the reasons why. Bhopal survivor Hazra Bee, who filed a Right to Information request to inspect files on 1 April, has not been given complete files till date. An inspection done on May 9 revealed that the PMO had wrongfully withheld information. This is an offence under the Act. The applicant has filed a complaint against the PMO with the Central Information Commission.
However, inspection of the incomplete file did reveal that the PMO was briefed of the fact that the Law Ministry had opined that Dow would have to pay up if Union Carbide was held liable, and that Dow’s investments in India were not immune to court orders. Speaking through its allies in the Government, namely Kamalnath, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and P. Chidambaram, Dow has sought immunity from Carbide’s liabilities in return for a promise of more than a $1 billion in investments.
An application filed on 23 April has also been stonewalled. The application sought details of the persons who met the PM over the last two months, and the time lapsed between when they sought a meeting, and when they were given an audience.
The Bhopal groups have said that they will not allow the PM to put off dealing with the Bhopal issue any longer.
For more information, contact:
Madhumita Dutta: 9717516004 or 09444390240.
Satinath Sarangi: 09993185134

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