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To,

The Prime Minister

Government of India

New Delhi 110 001

                                                                                                                        March 23, 2000

Sub: Urgent attention to lingering issues of the December '84 Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal

Adaraniya Atalji,

On behalf of the survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal we wish to present before you the unresolved medical, legal, economic, social and environmental issues of this world's worst industrial disaster. We cherish the memory of your strong and active support to the cause of the Bhopal survivors. Your vigorous opposition to the settlement between Union Carbide and the Government of India has been a source of inspiration tor many of us. We remember your participation in the demonstration against the collusive settlement and subsequent courting of arrest on February 24, 1989. We also remember your very active support to the letter campaign against the settlement that was joined by over 120 members of Parliament.

In the above context we must express our dismay at the failure of the central government in addressing the lingering issues of the disaster. With you as the Prime Minister, the survivors of Bhopal looked forward to a meaningful resolution of the various issues that have long been neglected. We are indeed disappointed that in terms of official apathy and neglect, your government has been no different to previous governments. Through this memorandum we wish to convey our disappointment with you and the government you lead. In this we also highlight the principal areas in which the intervention of the central government could bring about a positive change to a situation fraught with misery, injustice and despair.

1. The guilty are roaming free
It is most shocking that Union Carbide Corporation, USA and Warren Anderson, the two principal accused in the criminal case arising out of the industrial massacre, remain to be brought to justice. A non-bailable arrest warrant has been pending against Anderson for the last eight years and yet our government has not sent a formal request to the government of USA for his extradition. UCC, with charges of culpable homicide and other serious offences against them, have publicly dared Indian courts to take action and yet our government has ignored the situation. The inter-ministerial committee set up to pursue the criminal case is as good as non-existent. The message conveyed loud and clear by the Indian government through its inaction is that a company can kill thousands of Indian people, maim hundreds of thousands others and remain unscathed. We strongly urge you to bring up the matter of extradition of the principal accused of the Bhopal disaster with Mr. Bill Clinton during his upcoming visit.

The prosecution of the Indian accused must also draw your immediate attention. The incompetence and lack of will of the Central Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the dilution of charges so much so, that their offence has been made comparable to a motor vehicle accident. The ongoing criminal proceedings in the Bhopal District Court offer little hope of anything remotely resembling justice ever being achieved in this case. We urge you to set up a special prosecution cell with the required technical expertise that would pursue the criminal case against Keshub Mahindra and the other Indian accused.

2. Rampant corruption and inefficiency
As per the official records of the Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh, a total of about Rs. 400 Crores has been spent on the relief and rehabilitation of the survivors of Bhopal since the disaster. Of this about Rs. 200 Crores have been spent on medical relief, Rs 60 Crores on economic rehabilitation, Rs. 70 Crores on social rehabilitation and Rs. 70 Crores on environmental rehabilitation. The abysmal state of relief and rehabilitation of the survivors after expenditure of such massive funds speaks volumes on the corruption and inefficiency rampant in official administration. Indeed the Comptroller and Auditor General has, on several occasions, pointed out this gross mismanagement of funds. A thorough review of the Madhya Pradesh government's relief and rehabilitation programs and expenditure incurred therein is of the utmost importance in stopping further mis-utilization of funds and to initiate relief and rehabilitation programs that actually help the survivors. We urge you to direct such a review with the participation of the survivors’ organizations.

3. Medical treatment still unknown
Of the half a million people exposed and injured by Carbide's toxic gases, over 120,000 chronically ill survivors in the severely affected communities are desperately in need of medical attention. There is no treatment protocol for treatment of exposure-induced multi-systemic damages and the victims continue to be treated with symptomatic drugs that offer only temporary relief, if at all. Denial of medical information by Union Carbide and failure of official research agencies to address the issue of medical treatment has resulted in a situation in which the injuries of the survivors have been compounded by the use of potentially harmful drugs. The clinics run by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT), originally set up by Union Carbide have recently been found to be using physiologically and psychologically addictive substances and other harmful drugs in treating gas victims. Traditional systems of health care such as Ayurveda, Unani and Yoga that are known to provide sustained relief, without contributing to the toxic load, have been given only token recognition in the official system of medical care. Unfortunately, both the government and the BMHT have spent a major proportion of the medical relief funds in the construction of hospital buildings. The government hospitals meant for gas victims have no system of registration and are forever short of medicines, doctors and equipment.

A matter of serious concern is the discontinuation of research and monitoring activities in Bhopal. All of the 24 research projects initiated by the Indian Council of Medical Research were wound up (many prematurely) in 1994 and there is no current surveillance of long term health complications. The ICMR is yet to publish the results of its research even after six years of completion and thousands of gas victims subjected to numerous investigations have no knowledge of the results of years of research on their bodies. The alarming rise in cancers, TB, reproductive system problems and other diseases among the survivors remain undocumented. While people continue to die of exposure related diseases, the official agency for monitoring deaths remains closed and has been since 1992. The research work by the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies (CRS) set up by the Madhya Pradesh Government has done little other than draw ridicule and contempt for its abysmal quality. Availability of funds for medical relief, monitoring and research is the combined responsibility of the governments at the state and the centre and remains plagued with uncertainty and delay.

Our ten year long demand of setting up a National Commission on Bhopal with independent authority and funds for long term relief and rehabilitation of the survivors continues to be ignored by the government despite national and international support from professionals and others concerned with the deteriorating medical situation in Bhopal. We urge you to seriously consider setting up such a Commission with the participation of survivors’ organizations and their supporters.

4. Compensation denied to victims
We would like to draw your attention to a recent official notification regarding amendment of the Bhopal Gas Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act. As per this amendment, claimants whose claims have been rejected for reasons of "non-appearance" will be denied their right to compensation if they do not restore their claims by May 30, 2000. Owing to faulty registration procedures, over 150,000 claimants have not received any notification from the claim tribunals regarding adjudication of their claims and have had their cases rejected for so called non-appearance. Many of these victims are illiterate and have no notion of this arbitrary amendment. We urge you to intervene in this matter and stop this great injustice.

We would also like you to pay attention to the wrongful exclusion of second generation victims from the list of potential claimants, the wrongful rejection of victims’ claims for personal injury and the wrongful denial of death compensation. All these are routine in Bhopal. In the name of justice we would also like you to instruct local leaders of your party to refrain from claiming the balance of compensation on behalf of the residents of the wealthy neighbourhoods in Bhopal. These 20 municipal wards were not affected by the disaster and should not benefit from the compensation due to others desperately in need.

5. Zero achievement in rehabilitation
In the last 15 years about Rs. 70 Crores has been spent by the government to provide jobs to survivors who have lost their capacity to work. However there is nothing to show that any of this money has actually helped in the rehabilitation of victims. In the Special Industrial Area, built at a cost of Rs 8 Crores in 1990 to provide jobs to 10,000 victims, nearly half of the 152 worksheds have been used as barracks for the Rapid Action Force since 1993. The rest of the worksheds lie vacant. An Industrial Training Institute built in 1994, also at a cost of Rs. 8 Crore, is yet to be fully functional. More importantly, most people trained at this institute remain unemployed as there is no special provision for employing gas victims. Gas victims were promised 50% job reservation at the Railway Coach Repair Factory but only about 200 of the 1200 employees are from the gas affected community.

Worksheds employing 2300 gas affected women and earning Rs. 1 Crore per year as profit were arbitrarily closed down in July 1992 after running successfully for five years. Production of stationery is the only government sponsored programme that is still running. However, the 80 women employed at this workshed have been casual employees for the last 12 years earning less than half the wage of those who do similar work.

6. Poison In Our Water and Soil
Recently, the international environmental organization, Greenpeace, named the area in the vicinity of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal a "Global toxic hotspot". Their report based on samples collected from in and around the factory premises indicates severe contamination of the groundwater and soil with heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals. Earlier in 1990 the Bhopal Group for Information and Action reported the presence of at least seven toxic chemicals based on a report by the Citizens Environmental Laboratory, Boston. In 1986 and 1991 the official State Research Laboratory of the Public Health Engineering Department reported severe chemical contamination of the groundwater around the factory. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute also reported heavy concentration of toxic chemicals over large area within the factory premises in 1994.

An estimated 20,000 people, the majority of them gas victims, are routinely ingesting toxic chemicals as a result of the poisoning of drinking water sources in Jaipraksh Nagar, Atal-Ayub Nagar, New Arif Nagar, Annu Nagar, Shankar Nagar, Nawab Colony, Kainchi Chhola and Navjeevan Colony. Union Carbide Corporation, USA who were in control of the factory when toxic chemicals were dumped recklessly must be made to pay for the rehabilitation of the degraded land. This requires immediate and active intervention by the government so that the environmental damage is fully assessed by a committee of experts. It is also important that government agencies and officials who have contributed to this damage through deliberate neglect are penalised. Most of all, the residents of the above communities need an immediate alternative supply of drinking water. Towards this end, the Madhya Pradesh government had sought Rs. 8.5 crores from the Centre but only Rs. 3 Crore was granted. Of the Rs. 3 Crores, only Rs. 58 lakhs have been released by the state government so far and no work has begun on this extremely important issue concerning the health of the survivors.

7. No support to widows and orphan
It should be a matter of national shame that the victims who have lost their parents, husbands or other family members have had no social support. No official agency is concerned with victims with severe exposure-related disabilities who are unable to support themselves and their families. Following our intervention in the Supreme Court of India, such persons received a monthly pension but it has been discontinued after payment of compensation. The amount people have received as compensation has been paltry and mostly spent in repaying debts. Yet the Madhya Pradesh government does not even have a record of people rendered destitute as a result of the disaster.

8. Memorial to the disaster
The recent announcement by the Ministry of Tourism regarding plans for building an "amusement park for international tourists" as part of the memorial to the disaster has shocked the conscience of people all over the world. Hopefully the flurry of protest letters has prompted good sense to prevail upon the ministry concerned and such plans have been dropped.

We now request you to honour the moral right of the victims to decide upon the ways and means to preserve the memory of the disaster and set aside funds to build a memorial on the site of the factory. We believe that such a memorial should serve to make people aware of the horrors of hazardous industrial practices and reckless corporate conduct and provide inspiration for building a toxic free future for the entire planet. We also request you to make efforts towards the introduction of the story of the disaster and its aftermath in the educational syllabus in the country and to declare December 3, as a National Day of Mourning for Victims of Industrial Hazards.

We hope you will give due attention to the issues mentioned above and direct official intervention towards their resolution.

We look forward to your response.

Thanking you.

Yours sincerely,

 

Abdul Jabbar
Convenor
Bhopal Gas Peedit          
Mahila Udyog
Sangathan
Balkrishna Namdeo
Convenor
Bhopal Gas Peedit
Nirashrit Pension Bhogi
Sangharsh Morcha
Rashida Bi
President
Bhopal Gas Peedit
Mahila Stationery
Karmchari Sangh

Tel: 0755 – 242727 0755 – 757619 0755 - 759364

Contact address : 51, Rajendra Nagar, Bhopal 462 010

 

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