Bhopal victims demonstrate outside firms offices
The Times of India News Service, 2nd March 2001


MUMBAI: Three hundred women, who survived the gas tragedy 17 years ago, have come all the way to Mumbai to demonstrate outside the offices of the multinational firm Dow Chemicals and demand that it accept the criminal liabilities of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), with which it merged on February 6 this year.

UCC was responsible for the leak of the lethal methyl isocyanate in Bhopal in 1984, which claimed thousands of lives and whose after effects are apparent even now.

The victims' groups on Thursday submitted a memorandum to Dow Chemical's country manager Ravi Muthukrishnan demanding it accept UCC's pending liabilities and pay for long term medical care, research and monitoring of the victims.

They have asked Dow Chemicals to pay for the economic rehabilitation of families impoverished by the tragedy and clean up the town's contaminated soil and groundwater.

The merger makes UCC a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals. Dow however, has stated that it is not accountable for UCC's liabilities.

"With the merger, UCC is trying to run away from its guilt," said 45-year-old Rashida Bi of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh. "Even now, the after-effects of the gas leak are in evidence, with residents suffering from a host of ailments," she added. In the last 17 years, five members of Rashida Bi's family have succumbed to cancer.

"Though UCC wound up operations in Bhopal, it left behind a concoction of deadly chemicals which have contaminated groundwater," said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information & Action. He cited a 1990 study by the Citizen's Environmental Laboratory, Boston, which says Bhopal's groundwater is contaminated with seven chemicals of which at least two are carcinogenic. Although UCC, in a settlement with the Indian government, paid a compensation of $470 million which is being disbursed to victims through the Supreme Court, there is still a criminal case pending against the firm and its erstwhile chairperson Warren Anderson who has gone into hiding.

"The monetary compensation was for the immediate victims. But there is an entire generation which is struggling in the aftermath. Cancer and tuberculosis are proved to be three times higher here than in normal populations. Many women have been rendered infertile while children here are born with congenital defects," Sarangi said.