Next generation Bhopal victims join protest

Ajay Jha, Gulfnews, April 30, 2008
Seven-month-old Nida with congenital birth defects sits with her mother during a press conference in New Delhi.
New Delhi: Aashish, Nawab, Suraj, Richa and Nida are all special children. They were born to parents who had survived the toxic 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy and were born with congenital defects.
Nida, 7, has hare lip and missing palate. Suraj, 12, and Nawab, 10, suffer from damaged brain and cannot sit or talk. Rachna, 5, is mentally retarded and Aakash, 7, has malformed eye.
Likewise, Danish is 18 years old, but barely looks 10 or 11. He is among the innumerable teenagers born with growth disorder.
They all arrived in the national capital on March 28 along with their parents, who are part of a group of 50 gas-affected persons that covered 300km on foot covering the distance in five weeks and are since staging a sit-in protest at the historic Jantar Mantar, hoping to attract attention of the authorities towards their plight.
“We have not come here to go back. Either they listen to us or our dead bodies will return to Bhopal,” said one of the parents.
Some 24 years after the toxic gas leak in the Union Carbide plant in the Madhya Pradesh capital that killed hundreds and affected about half a million people, the victims are faced with a new problem.
Survivors are giving birth to children who are the generation-next victims. Nearly 150 children have registered for treatment with similar disorders and the social workers fighting for their rights say it could just be the tip of an iceberg since no headcount has been undertaken to estimate the next generation victims.
What is worse is that even now people living in the vicinity of the killer plant are suffering mainly due to the callous attitude of the authorities.
Toxic waste is still lying in the plant’s compound and is contaminating the ground water, which is the only source of potable water fetched through hand pumps in the area.
“Following a Supreme Court directive, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised action on the supply of piped water. Rs14 billion [Dh1.3 billion] was sanctioned for the project,” said Sattinath Sarangi, a social worker, who is fighting for gas victims’ rights. Only 20 per cent work has been done in two years, he said.
The gas victims say that the federal government was fully aware about the impact of the gas leak on the next generation. A research project in the area by the Indian Council of Medical Research was abruptly stopped in 1994.
Dr N.R. Bhandari, who was heading the project, wanted it to continue at least till the children born after the gas leak had attained puberty.

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