Dharna day 11: meeting with minister Jairam Ramesh

The morning began once again with a visit to St Mary’s School by Rachna, Yasmeen and Safreen. The school didn’t have electricity, so no film screening was possible, and the children described the gas disaster instead and talked about the issues they faced.

The big event of the day was a significant meeting with Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. Sathyu and Rachna were present along with Jayprakashji of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti), and our lawyers Karuna and Avinendra. Karuna ji represents the survivors’ groups in the Supreme Court while Avinendra represents the survivors in MP high court and Delhi high court. We presented Jairam Ramesh with our set of demands and plan to also send him our map to remediation.

In the course of the meeting Mr. Jairam Ramesh agreed to the representation of all seven of the survivors organization in the Environmental Oversight Remediation Committee. Upon our insistence, this included Children Against Dow-Carbide, over whose representation he hesistated because they were not adults. He also agreed to read the critique we had submitted on behalf of all seven survivor’s organizations, of the NEERI & NGRI reports assessing the depth and spread of Union Carbide’s toxic waste in & around the factory, and to post it to the MOEF website. He also claimed he was seeking feedback from several individuals and agencies on the NEERI & NGRI reports and will post responses on the website in another week; meanwhile the oversight committee has set up a peer review committee to present a public critical assessment of NEERI and NGRI’s report. This should be out by 27 August and comments will be possible. He also suggested that if the willingness expressed by members of the European Union Parliament to offer financial and technical assistance turned into a formal offer backed by an EU resolution, there’s a good possibility that the Government
of India would accept.

The whole meeting ended well and it was a wonderful turn-around since the time Mr. Ramesh made some jokes mocking the toxicity of the Union Carbide factory, and some of our dharna members had gone to jail for burning his effigy! We are glad that despite this, he’s taking his responsibility as the Minister of Environment and Forests more seriously than most Ministers do. This says more about the state of the government than anything else, so while we are happy for his particular responsiveness, there’s a strong imperative to move to a system where regardless of our luck of the draw with ministries and bureaucrats, the administrators are kept accountable by us, or able to be fired by us.

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