India to allow visits to Bhopal disaster site -AFP

India to allow visits to Bhopal disaster site

BHOPAL, India — India will mark next month’s 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, the world’s worst industrial accident, by throwing open the site to visitors, an official said Tuesday.

Tragedy struck on December 3-4, 1984 when a storage tank at a pesticide plant run by Union Carbide — bought by US group Dow Chemicals in 1999 — spewed cyanide gas into the air, instantly killing more than 3,500 people.

Indian rights activists say the total figure is double that, including those who died in the aftermath of the leak, while Amnesty International estimated in 2004 that 22,000-25,000 people were killed by the 80 tonnes of gas.

Babulal Gaur, who heads the ministry of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation, said the week-long programme to welcome visitors will help dispel fears over the plant.

“This is to help people to get rid of apprehension and misconceptions that chemical waste lying inside the factory is still harmful or that the chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities,” he said.

He said people could enter the plant free of charge after obtaining clearance from the government.

Only experts and investigators so far have had access to the sealed plant, built in the 1970’s by Union Carbide India Ltd. — an Indian firm in which Union Carbide was a 50:50 partner.

Gaur said the government will also organise a week-long exhibition inside the plant to highlight welfare measures for the survivors.

Bhopal is capital of Madhya Pradesh, India’s largest state.

The Bhopal Group of Information and Action group, which is campaigning for more compensation for the victims, attacked Gaur.

“Mr. Gaur is neither a scientist nor a man with common sense because there are still 24 deposits of high toxic material inside the plant,” group spokeswoman Rachna Dinghra told AFP.

“It is also a violation of a 2006 Supreme Court order that no one should be allowed inside,” she added.

Dow is under pressure to clean up but it insists all liabilities regarding the disaster were settled when Union Carbide concluded a 470-million dollar compensation settlement with the Indian government in 1989.

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