Pervez Bari, TwoCircles.net, 19th February, 2008
Bhopal: Over a hundred survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy, the world’s worst industrial disaster, who were poisoned by the Union Carbide’s toxic chemicals, and their supporters will walk about 800 kilometers to New Delhi from here to remind the Indian Prime Minister of the promises he did not keep. The foot-march from Bhopal to New Delhi will kick-start from Wednesday (February 20).
The people in the “Padyatra” (foot-march) will include survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster and residents of communities in the vicinity of the abandoned Union Carbide factory where the soil and ground water has been contaminated for last 20 years.
The three survivors’ and supporters’ organizations: Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha and Bhopal Group for Information and Action, that are leading the “Padyatra” are demanding that the Prime Minister direct the setting up of an empowered commission on Bhopal for long term medical care and rehabilitation of the Bhopal victims and their children.
The organizations have suggested the names of Padmabhusan Dr. P M Bhargava founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; Dr. Sneh Bhargav, former Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and eight other scientists, social workers and former government officials as representatives of the Bhopal survivors in the Commission on Bhopal.
In addition to the Empowered Commission on Bhopal, the “Padyatris” (foot-marchers) are demanding that the Prime Minister direct the ministries of External Affairs, Agriculture, Industries and Chemical & Fertilizers to take legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical.
Their demands include revoking of the approval to Reliance Industries to purchase Union Carbide’s Unipol technology, extradition of authorized representatives of Union Carbide Corporation and cancellation of registrations of four pesticides that Dow obtained licenses for by paying bribes to officials in the ministry of Agriculture. They are also demanding that the government must make Dow Chemical pay for the clean up of hazardous waste in Bhopal as well as pay compensation for health and environmental damages caused due to chemical contamination of soil and ground water.
It may be pointed out here that the organizations had gone on a similar “Padyatra” in February – March 2006 and had met with the Prime Minister on April 17, 2006. “After our 800 kilometer march we had to sit on a “dharna” (sit-in) for 15 days and then go on a hunger strike for six days just to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. When he finally met us he assured us that he will do all within his powers to help the victims of Bhopal and all within law to punish Union Carbide and Dow Chemical.” said Rashida Bee, president of the Karmachari Sangh a trade union of women workers. She alleged that the Prime Minister has kept none of his promises and that in the last two years the PMO (Prime Minister Office) has turned a blind eye to Dow Chemical’s illegal activities in India.
Thousands of national and international supporters of Bhopal survivors will be taking action throughout the “Padyatra”. Nationwide supporters of the Bhopal campaign will organize rallies, meetings and signature campaigns and there are plans of protests at several Indian Consulates and Embassies in the United States and the United Kingdom. Concerned citizens from many countries have already begun sending postcards and faxes to the Prime Minister asking him to “walk his talk”.
According to Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, the Bhopal “Padyatris” expect to reach New Delhi in the last week of March when they have sought a meeting with the Prime Minister. Depending on the response of the Prime Minister the marchers may decide to go on an indefinite fast at the end of their 800 kilometers long march. (firstname.lastname@example.org)