Category Archives: Community Blog

Survivors and our dedicated campaign volunteers around the globe regularly reflect on the fight for justice in Bhopal and our experiences with Dow Chemical.

Day 1: from Bhopal to Gandhi Nagar. "We will fight, we will win!"

Monday 20th February
Monday, 20 February 2006
Just before noon hundreds of people gathered at the statue of the Mother & Child (the memorial opposite the abandoned Union Carbide factory) to see us padyatris (marchers) begin the long walk to Delhi. Many family members were crying as they hugged their loved ones and said goodbye.
The families of the padyatris were there to see them off
Several gas and contamination affected parents brought a group of very
young children with birth defects and growth abnormalities to give the
padyatris their good wishes and to give the march energy and
inspiration for the long and difficult journey ahead. It was for
them, the children were told, that we are marching — for their health
and their future.
Several padyatris are currently ill, many are very old, most have
little with them but a pair of sandals and a few clothes, and every
one of them is embarking on the long walk at great personal risk and
sacrifice. The energy and excitement, however, was palpable.
Children watch as the marchers depart
We began our walk at 1 pm amidst lots of media attention, moving off at a slow pace while people crowded round us garlanding us with roses and marigolds and giving us sweets.
Slowly we moved all several of Bhopal’s main thoroughfares before heading out of the city. Local and national media conducted many interviews and shot a lot of footage. Police presence was high but non-threatening.
Ganesh Prasad, 73 years old, is the oldest padyatri
All the padyatris were extremely spirited and energetic. “Ladenge!
Jeetenge!” the crowd shouted again and again — “we will fight! we
will prevail!”
Just when we thought we could carry no more garlands, the women from the Stationery Workers trade union came into view. They were waiting at the bus stand crossing, and showered us with rose petals.
These women too were crying as they hugged Champa Devi. They had all walked to New Delhi in 1989 and knew what lay in store for their didi (elder sister). An account of the 1989 walk may be read here.
Shahazadi Bee, Champa didi, Nafeesa Bee, Kanchan Bai and other women leading the march chanted slogans:
pradhaan mantree ko bataana hai
paidal dilli janaa hai

if to the PM we’re to talk
to Delhi we will have to walk
saaf paanee laana hai
paidal dilli jaanaa hai

if we want to get clean water
we’ll have to walk to Delhi, daughter
kaatil ko sazaa dilaanaa hai
paidal dilli jaanaa hai

to force the killers to stand trial
we must walk to Delhi mile on mile
They kept this up all the way [5 kilometers] to the Collector’s office where much ruckus was made. Our loudspeaker-truck [complete with big boards illustrating the six demands] cursed the collector and the MP government for not making any arrangements for drinking water and emergency medical care to accompany us.
We stopped at a small village called Shingarcholi for a late light lunch of aloo-puree [potatoes and fried bread]. The water in the village hand pump was cool and tasty.
By six, just as the sun was going down, we were at the Gandhi Nagar government school where the local people had organised a reception in the school grounds.
We were to sleep in the open ground under the night sky. We had done our first 13 kilometers and many were rather tired. In no time at all Chhoté Khan and Nafeesa Bee with help from four others prepared a splendid meal of rice and daal over a wood fire.
After dinner we had a meeting of the representatives chosen by the padyatris by common agreement. We talked about next day’s schedule and many practical matters all of which got sorted in surprisingly short time.
Everyone slept under the stars. We woke at about 4 am to get a head start on the day and beat the sun, and local people cooked breakfast for everyone. Today’s walk will be much longer — it is 30 kilometers to Duraha, the next town on the route of the padyatra.
Back to padyatra index page

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Dupont’s Tancredi makes a fool of herself in embarrassing Bhopal symposium

Here’s an update about Bill Russell’s Bhopal event at the New York Academy of Sciences on Monday night, cosponsored by the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Because no one affiliated with ICJB was willing to participate, the whole thing was reduced to one panel – called “21 years Later : Learning from Bhopal.”
The panel was Scott Berger, director of The Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS); and Karen Tancredi, Manager, Environmental, Process Safety, and Fire Protection, for, as it turns out, Dupont Chemical, the second largest chemical company in the world (after Dow) and inventor of CFC’s.
Berger’s presentation was the less egregious of the two. He actually talked about Bhopal briefly, and although lowballing everything (2,000 dead, 100,000 injured), he at least attributed the disaster to numerous safety failures and a bad safety culture within UCC, although the left open the question of the actual trigger, saying it “didn’t matter” whether it was accidental or sabotage. And the then noted that there may have even been some “additional deaths” in the aftermath.
However, primarily his presentation was a history of the Center for Chemical Process Safety, formed in 1984 by 19 scared industry executives after Bhopal happened. Now, we should all be reassured to know, they have published over 70 books in 13 different languages since then. However, the “culture” of some companies has not changed, so things like the benzene spill in China this months still happen. Bottom line, thanks to Bhopal we’ve published a lot, and if companies feel like using the information, well that’s just super, but accidents will still happen. oh well. He used the words “regulation” and “enforcement” perhaps once each. It was all “culture” and “compliance” and “standards.”
Ms. Tancredi’s presentation was unbelievable. First of all it had nothing to do with Bhopal at all, and most to do with how exceptional Dupont is (“I really, really love Dupont”), even though “even we have accidents.” Basically the presentation was an ad for her new book on process safety, including such gems as prioritizing the areas that need safety — for example a warehouse that’s just storing stuff might be a good place to cut corners on safety spending, if you need it for your flaming pit of petroleum waste. I kind of zoned out because I started to see red. She had the nerve to end her presentation with the attached image, clearly having no idea what it was of, and noting that “look, this was, what was it Scott? 2 years ago in Bhopal? And that’s Sevin! and those workers aren’t even wearing masks! So you can see how we still have some work to do in terms of process safety.” Ok, those aren’t exact quotes, but that was the gist of it.
More pictures not shown by Tancredi are here.
However, most of the audience wasn’t having it (although several of them were later heard referring disparagingly to “the environmentalists” in the audience.) I started in (in a voice I was later told was very obviously trembling with rage…) and tried to fill in for the audience the fact that Bhopal had simply allowed the chemical industry to use process safety to better cover its ass, and meanwhile people die in Bhopal every day, and there is this water contamination, and if these two and the corporations they represent were really at all committed to safety wouldn’t they spend their time pressuring Dow to take responsibility for the disaster and be properly punished, so that “compliance” would become mandatory instead of optional. They dodged my questions mostly, Ms. Tancredi with a wide open sneer on her face.
But the audience took the cue and followed up with questions like, but didn’t the Bhopal accident happen because UCC used worse technology than they would have in the US? “Absolutely not” said Berger. So a lot of the Q&A was him saying things and me correcting them. There were a few questions from financiers and insurance agents that semi-addressed what these guys were talking about, but largely the tone was of restrained disbelief. One woman asked about the relationship of the precautionary principle to their attitude that there was an acceptable amount of risk, and Ms. Tancredi just baldly answered another question entirely, talking about how the safety culture at UCC was bad, as opposed to Dupont.

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Survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster remain at the mercy of a corrupt government and an impotent judicial system

By DINESH C SHARMA in the Bangkok Post
Bhopal : The infamous Union Carbide gas tragedy keeps haunting the central Indian city of Bhopal. The issue this time is the cleaning up of toxic chemical stockpiles decaying in the closed pesticide-making plant for the past 21 years. Normally this should have brought some cheer to survivors, but it has not.
Continue reading Survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster remain at the mercy of a corrupt government and an impotent judicial system

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Stavropoulos admits own incompetence as 40 Million shares go against Dow

At Dow’s AGM today, with the shareholder’s vote on a Bhopal resolution safely out of the way, William Stavropoulos finally admitted he had ‘misspoken’ at last year’s meeting when denying the existence of outstanding criminal charges against Union Carbide. After the confession, Stavropoulos slithered away from every other question on the dreaded criminal charges more adroitly than an oiled anaconda. Next year he will be forced to disclose that he’d repeated the original lie – ‘oh, silly old me’ – immediately prior to today’s vote, which despite Dow’s bare-faced concealing of the truth garnered six per cent of Dow’s shares against the company’s motion to dismiss – more than enough to enable proponents to reintroduce the resolution in 2005.

Meantime, there was more plenty more squirming. “To the best of my knowledge, er, we have no knowledge…” Stavropoulos offered in one inadvertent lurch towards profound truth, before it was revealed that what he/Dow knew not of was the MP government’s stated intention to sue Dow over contamination left behind at Carbide’s factory in Bhopal. Designed to put shareholder’s minds at rest over executive management’s understanding of the risks posed by Bhopal, this ludicrous denial was merely one in a bewildering series that also included ‘I have no awareness of Union Carbide making that allegation (of sabotage)’ – meaning that the CEO behind Dow’s 2001 takeover of Carbide would like shareholders to believe he had not actually bothered to look at the alleged causes behind the world’s largest industrial catastrophe before sealing the deal with the fugitive accused.

In all, it was a humiliating display of incompetence by Stavropoulos, acted out purely for the sake of keeping shareholders blind to the gargantuan liabilities crunching unerringly towards the company – those same liabilities which were brought upon Dow by Stavropoulos’s incompetence.

“To The Best of My Knowledge, Er, We Have No Knowledge…”

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN, 13 May 2004 — At Dow Chemicals’ shareholder meeting held today in Midland, Michigan, the Bhopal resolution introduced by Boston Common Asset Management secured more than 6 percent of shareholders’ votes or 40 million shares, enabling the proponents to reintroduce the resolution next year. The resolution, which was supported by influential shareholders such as the California Pension Fund and the New York Comptrollers Office, required Dow to report the steps taken by it in addressing the Bhopal liabilities, and in containing the reputational damage Dow continues to suffer as a result of its ongoing refusal to remedy the situation in Bhopal.

Describing the vote as a postive step in educating shareholders of Dow’s pending Bhopal liabilities, Bhopal survivors and 2004 Goldman Prize winners Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla said they chose to remain outside the shareholders’ meeting because they were “lied to” by the CEO last year. “Our apprehensions were confirmed this year. The company continues to mislead shareholders on significant liabilities that continue to be heard in courts in India and the US,” said Bee and Shukla. “It should concern shareholders and other members of the public that Dow has a pathological tendency to mislead its investors as a means of evading liability.”

Despite acknowledging that he “misspoke” at the 2003 AGM on the matter of pending criminal charges against Union Carbide Corporatation, Dow CEO William Stavropoulos “misspoke” again this year stating that “The 1989 settlement resolved all criminal and civil liabiilties” related to the Bhopal disaster. In 1992, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal declared Union Carbide Corporation a fugitive from justice for refusing to appear in Bhopal to face charges of manslaughter.

The CEO misled its shareholders that the Union Carbide site in India had been cleaned up, and that any remaining contamination is the responsibility of the Madhya Pradesh Government. Last month, Mr. Babu Lal Gaur, Minister for Gas Relief in the Madhya Pradesh Government, said that the Government will move against Dow Chemical for remediation of the Bhopal site. On March 17, 2004, the Federal Appeals court in New York affirmed survivors’ claims against Union Carbide for site remediation.

“The fact that the CEO said that he will deal with the impending legal challenge by the Indian Government on the matter of site clean up when the matter comes up exposes that Dow is only going to continue to react to increasing liability as opposed to taking a proactive stance,” said Lauren Compere of Boston Common Asset Management, the Boston-based investment firm that had introduced the Bhopal resolution.

On the matter of Dow’s dioxin contamination of the Saginaw watershed, the company fielded several questions by irate shareholders responding that “Chloracne is the most serious illness associated with dioxins in humans.”

Michelle Hurd-Riddick of Bay City-based Lone Tree Council said: “Dow’s responses on dioxin expose the company as either ignorant of science or unwilling to confront and deal with the dioxin problem.”

For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman: 520 906 5216 (cell)

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Diane now five days without food

Today, we had this worrying report concerning Diane: “five days into her fast and according to her sister not looking very good. But another source in the jail says she’s looking okay. If she continues her fast there’s a good chance she might be force fed or transferred to a jail with medical facilities or a containment (mental asylum sort of) facility. Her sister’s opened an account for her so she can buy the bare necessities. Nothing’s allowed from outside. Prisoners are forced to buy essentials from the jail authorities. Her biggest problem is boredom and morale.”

Our correspondent adds this appeal: “Please send her letters of support. If you wish to send her books, they need to be in their original bookstore plastic wraps.” Victoria County, Law Enforcement, Jails, Sheriff’s Department, 101 North Glass Street, Victoria, TX 77901. Tel: 361 574 8044 Ext 2269 for prison.

***WONDERFUL NEWS just in from Texas. Minutes ago we learnt that Diane has been persuaded to appeal her conviction, meaning she could be free on a bail bond by tomorrow. We’ll keep you informed as soon as we know more.

Diane with friends during her fast in Seadrift, August 2002

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