Day 4: in Pillukhedi, discussions about the good and harm done by factories

Thursday 23rd February
23rd February 2PM
We decided to stay one more day in Pillukhedi so that we could talk to people here about ways and means to take on the three companies that are causing large scale damage.
In the morning all of us [except Naseer, Nafeesa and two others who were cooking] went around the village with our banner. Seven people who could write went around recording stories of local people.
The people living closest to the factories are all contract workers. Word had gone around that the people from Bhopal were against all factories. The contract workers told the padyatris not to get the factories closed because they would have no jobs. There were lots of discussions – should all industrial activity be stopped? is it okay for a company to provide jobs to 10 people but cause damage to 90? What can be done to draw the attention of the government to the situation etc?
We were given a grand reception at the local high school. The principal had heard about Champa Devi and that she had won the Goldman Prize. Champa Devi and Sathyu spoke to the students who were gathered for their morning anthem. The principal garlanded Champa didi and put red colour on every one’s forehead as a way of welcome.
We made arrangements for a public meeting and a film screening at the school.
Further update from Rachna:</em
Second Day in Pillukhedi.
We held public meetings with the villagers. They reported a number of health effects from drinking the "donkey urine" water.
burning in eyes
stiffness in the limbs
panic attacks
burning in the stomach
skin diseases, rashes and itching
stomach ache
chest pain
The water is yellow or red in colour, leaves a yellow deposit on utensils, grass turns black, Trees have stopped bearing fruit, there is a foul smell from water, damage to crops around the factories.
The factories responsible are:
Vindhyachal Distilleries
Bhopal Gelatins
Ramteck Chemicals
Hind Spinners
Coca Cola
Contaminated land and water, near the Coca Cola factory
Population of Pillukhedi: 5000.
The populations of 4 villages have been affected by contaminated water, which is around 11,000
Sams: 1500
Gilakhedi: 3000
Pillukhedi: 50000
(not clear what the above lines mean, will check and clarify
Pillukhedi became an industrial area around 20 years ago when the
Government of Madhya Pradesh acquired 320 acres of land from the
farmers. They acquired the land at Rs 25000/- per acre.
Vindhyachal Distilleries came to Pillukhedi around 15-17 years ago. They privately purchased about 20 acres of land from farmers.
Coca Cola came about 12 years ago and they acquired the land from the Special Development Authority set up by the MP government’s Industrial Area Development Corporation.
All these factories draw water fromthe river Parvati. The effluent goes into a stream near Gilakhedi. Hundreds of people from neighbouring villages work in these factories.
Coca Cola paid Rs 3,00,000 – 4,00,000 for a “Pilukhedi dam”.
Vindhyachal runs a clinic but doctors are only there once a year.
The water in the handpump was contaminated 10 years ago.
About 7 years ago government signs were put up stating “water is not fit for drinking.” In the last 3 years the problem of contaminated water has become acute. People have to travel more than 2 km to get drinking water. MPCPB (Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board) also
conducted tests in these areas and found no contamination.
During our stay officials from Coca Cola called up local people checking on whether the Bhopalis were planning to protest against their company.
(Hint: Protest in a big way to Coca Cola about what they are doing in Pillukhedi and other places.)
Back to padyatra index page

23 February, 2006. Pillookhedi, MP — Day 4 of the Padayatra
At long last, we heard from the marchers. Sathyu called from Pillukhedi, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, with breathtaking spreads of wheat fields, the gently flowing Parvati River, and smelly factories. Since they set off on February 20, they have been out of coverage of Reliance Infocomm’s cell-phone networks. Reliance’s revenge against activists from the longest-running anti-corporate campaign in India.
The 58 Padayatris who are currently on the road are in great spirits. The youngest participant is getting a ride the whole way. One-year old Karuna, fondly known as “Moti” or “the plump one,” is the only child on the march. They start walking early in the morning, by about 4.30 a.m. and go on until 10 or so. They start again after a long rest at about 4 p.m. and go on for another four hours. The going has been tough, though, especially for those with health problems. It is likely to remain so for the next few days, after which the starting pains will disappear as the rhythms of walking assert themselves. They don’t have a doctor with them yet. But last night, Biju (the ayurved masseur and therapist), Dr. Mrityun Jay (the ayurved doctor) and Anand, a community health researcher — all from Sambhavna — visited. Biju gave massage to 20 people in one evening, and Dr. Jay gave people medicines.
Pillookhedi is the site of four big factories — a spinning mill, the Vindhyachal Distilleries, a Coca Cola factory and a gelatine factory. “Very few people speak up against Coca Cola. Those that do say Coke and the other factories have spoilt the groundwater. “One of the villagers who said he’s a doctor — I don’t think he’s really a doctor — said that water samples from here showed high levels of fluoride. I think that is because of super extraction — when large quantities of water are sucked from the ground at a very high rate, it tends to erode the fluorides from the sub-surface rock formations,” says Sathyu.
The Bhopalis are at home here, in a sinister way. All the handpumps in the village have signs put up by the District Administration saying: “Water Unfit for Consumption.” The water here is like “donkey urine,” concur the villagers. It is yellow and smelly. It’s been this way for three years, they say. While there is little overt resistance to pollution, all villagers speak out derisively about the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board. “Everybody says the Pollution Control Board officials come, take money and go. They’re all corrupt,” Just like Bhopal.
The distillery gives farmers the toxic sludge that remains after their effluents are treated to be used as fertiliser. Farmers say that it is ok for the first two years, but then the yield starts dropping.
The Bhopalis have been here since last evening. They are waiting for friends to arrive from Mehdiganj, near Varanasi, where villagers are waging a vociferous battle against a Coca Cola factory for sucking local aquifers dry. Last night, they screened “Bhopal Express” in the village. They talked about Bhopal, and about how to begin addressing the local problems of pollution. “We also told them about the Right to Information Act and how to use it in the local context. But these places need a lot more attention. We should see how we can do that,” Sathyu notes.
It was noisy as hell when I called the second time. A loud loudspeaker was blaring in the background, and through all the noise I could make out only two stray words — Bhopal and Calcutta. Must have been one of the Bhopalis introducing themselves. Joe Athialy and two other friends from Amnesty in Delhi had joined the march this morning. It’s thanks to Joe’s phone that we got our second update from Sathyu. None of the fancy mobile phone-to-internet business seems to have worked.
The villagers have given the Padayatris vegetables and buttermilk. So tonight there’s Khaddi and Roti for dinner. Tonight is going to be special, it looks like. The ex-Sarpanch (village head) is also arranging for some milk, and if that comes, there will be Kheer as well. The cooking, needless to know, is reportedly awesome. People take turns. Yesterday, Chhoté Khan — an imposing man with hennaed beard — made the food, and it was excellent, they said. Chotte Khan is one of the long-distance runners in the justice struggle in Bhopal. In reminiscing during the mid-day breaks, he talked about how he was part of the massive demonstration against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson in December 1984, in the days after the disaster. His spirit is unflagging. Dow had better watch out.

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