One critical, many arrested in Rail Roko, eyewitnesses speak of people covered in blood on 27th anniversary of gas disaster
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The “rail roko/stop the trains” protest in Bhopal began peacefully as planned at dawn this morning. Survivors with their families and friends gathered in groups and went to places on the railway line to lie down and begin a peaceful protest.
Police in riot gear with shields and “lathis”, long heavy clubs, turned out in force and began to attack the survivors, sparing neither the old, women and children.
Phone reports speak of people hit by stones and lathis covered in blood. One person is said to be critical in hospital. Many have been arrested. Bodies are lying on the ground in scenes reminiscient of the gas disaster of which today is the 27th anniversary.
The “rail roko” was a desperate last attempt to get the Indian government to publish the true figures of deaths and injuries attributable to the 1984 gas disaster. It is well recognised the numbers of victims were vastly underrated.
The $470 million 1989 settlement between Union Carbide and the Indian government was based on those figures, consequently the compensation available to victims was pitifully inadequate.
That settlement was not, as Union Carbide’s alter ego Dow Chemical (they merged into one operation in 2001) claims “full and final”. It was reopened by the Supreme Court in 1991 when criminal charges were reinstated against Union Carbide.
The present government has gone back to the Supreme Court with a “curative petition” to seek additional compensation from the company on the basis of what we now, 27 years later, know to be the scale of the human toll.
While welcoming the curative petition, the survivors are frustrated because the government is still not publishing the true figures. For example the curative petition counts 5295 deaths, but the government’s own figures, obtained from the Indian Council of Medical Research and other government bodies, put the true death toll at 22,917.
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