20 February, 2008. NEW DELHI – More than 60 Bhopal survivors and victims of Union Carbide’s water contamination, set off on an 800 km march to New Delhi from Bhopal at 1 p.m. today. At least 40 more are expected to join the padayatra (march) within two days. Anticipated in the capital on 23 March, the marchers aim to meet the Prime Minister to remind him of his unkept promises regarding rehabilitation of the survivors, clean-up of the environment, provision of clean water and punishment of the guilty corporations.
This is the second such march in two years. Some marchers, like 70-year old Gulab Bee and Shanti Bhai, are veterans from the earlier march. In that instance, the Prime Minister had refused to meet the Bhopalis even after the foot-weary marchers arrived in Delhi. Only after a 21-day sit in strike by the Bhopalis, including several encounters with the Delhi police, and a 6-day fast did Mr. Manmohan Singh meet the protestors and concede their demands.
“After all that trouble, the Prime Minister’s word has proven worthless. Two years after his promise, the lot of the Bhopalis has gone from bad to worse,” said Rashida Bee, leader of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association). “Our effort this year would be far more difficult for the Government to ignore,” she said.
The campaign’s substantial international supporter base has assured the survivors that they will picket Indian embassies overseas. “The authorities can expect a busy time handling phone calls, faxes and demonstrations by Bhopal supporters. It is unacceptable that survivors of the world’s worst disaster have to walk 800 kilometres two times in as many years asking for their basic rights,” said Tim Edwards of the UK Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. An online fax action targeting the Prime Minister’s office has already recorded more than 40 petitions sent to the PMO in less than a day.
The three survivors and support organizations – Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha and Bhopal Group for Information and Action – that are leading the padayatra have demanded that the Prime Minister set up an empowered commission on Bhopal. The Commission would pursue long-term medical care and socio-economic rehabilitation of Bhopal victims and their children. Dr. P.M. Bhargava, founder of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and Dr. Sneh Bhargav, former director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, feature prominently on the list of 10 or so eminent citizens suggested as members for the Commission.
Rather than deliver on his promise to the Bhopalis, the Government has actively pursued Dow Chemical’s interests. Right to Information records reveal that the PMO is directly involved in attempts to shield Dow from legal liability relating to environmental contamination, and that the Ministry of Commerce has approved the sale of Union Carbide’s Unipol technology to Reliance Industries. Union Carbide was proclaimed absconder in 1992, and all its assets are subject to attachment.
Bhopalis are demanding that this approval be revoked, and licenses given to four pesticides fraudulently registered by Dow Chemical after paying bribes to agriculture ministry officials be cancelled. They have also made it clear that the Government should give up attempts to shield Dow from environmental liability, and work to hold the company liable for environmental remediation and compensation to those affected by the toxic water.
For more information, contact:
Shalini Sharma: 09891442037
Nityanand Jayaraman: 09444082401