India Police Detain 62 Protesters Over 1984 Gas-Leak Disaster

Muneeza Naqvi, AP, May 21, 2008
NEW DELHI (AP)–Indian police detained 62 protesters calling for a cleanup of the 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster as they demonstrated near the prime minister’s official residence Wednesday, an organizer said.
Some of the protesters had walked nearly 800 kilometers from the site of a toxic gas leak at a pesticide plant in the central city of Bhopal that killed at least 10,000 people and affected about 550,000 others, said Madhumita Dutta, a spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Thirty-seven demonstrators chained themselves to prime minister’s gates Wednesday, demanding that the disaster site be cleaned up and survivors be adequately compensated, Dutta said.
Authorities have banned protests in the security zone around the prime minister’s residence.
Police used chain cutters to free the protesters, then took them and their fellow activists away in vans to the nearest police station, Dutta said. They were likely to be released later Wednesday.
Police confirmed the arrests, but would not comment further.
The Bhopal gas leak is considered one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. A subsidiary of U.S. chemical company Union Carbide ran the plant at the time of the accident.
For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned up, but they say the efforts were slowed when Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) took over Union Carbide in 2001, seven years after Union Carbide sold its interest in the Bhopal plant.
In 1989, Union Carbide paid US$470 million in compensation to victims of the gas leak and said responsibility for the cleanup lay with the Indian government.
The protesters want an official panel to work on social, economic and medical rehabilitation for the gas victims, and to arrange for the cleanup of the site and the drinking water in the area, Dutta said.
Activists working with survivors say that nearly 10,000 tons of toxic waste is still lying in and around the site.
Dow says it is not responsible for cleaning up the site.
The plant is now under the control of India’s Madhya Pradesh state, which has agreed to pay an Indian company, Bharuch Environ Infrastructure Ltd., US$220,000 to dispose of the waste.
However, work on the cleanup has yet to begin, an executive of Bharuch Environ said Wednesday, saying that court cases must be resolved before work can start. He declined to be named.
Dow Jones Newswires
05-21-08 0634ET
Copyright (c) 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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