Press Statement: Bhopal Survivors announce an Indefinite Dharna

Press Statement – 13 April 2010

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Children Against Dow-Carbide
Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

At a Press Conference today, four Bhopal based organizations representing people exposed to Union Carbide’s toxic chemicals and their children announced their indefinite protest in the capital calling for the establishment of an Empowered Commission on Bhopal for long term medical care and rehabilitation of the victims. “Our people will reach Delhi on 15th and will stay as long as it takes the Prime Minister to fulfill his two year old promise to set up the Empowered Commission,” said Rashida Bee, President of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, who has been awarded Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in Bhopal.

The Bhopalis, including two survivors of the December 1984 disaster and two children exposed to toxic contamination from Union Carbide’s untreated chemical waste, presented a document read out on 29 May, 2008 by the then Minister of State for PMO, Prithviraj Chavan, in which he publicly declared the Government’s “in-principle” agreement to set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal. This was followed by a decision of the Group of Ministers on Bhopal, headed at that time by Arjun Singh, recommending the setting up of the Empowered Commission.

April 17th marks the fourth anniversary of the Bhopalis’ first meeting with Prime Minister Singh, where he assured them that the lingering issues of medical, environmental, economic rehabilitation in Bhopal would be taken care of.
“It wasn’t easy getting to meet the Prime Minister,” said Syed M Irfan, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush sangharsh Morcha. “We had to walk 800 kilometers and then we had to do another Bhopal to New Delhi Padyatra in 2008 for the Prime Minister to issue a written promise.” He said that the Empowered Commission is urgently needed to stop the ongoing disasters in Bhopal that are still killing, injuring and maiming the unborn.

“Despite the promises, 20,000 people are still drinking poisoned water; 10,000 gas victims who were promised jobs are jobless; medical treatment for the indigent victims remains elusive; the site and its surroundings are polluted, and the culprit – Dow Chemical – is freely doing business in India,” said Safreen Khan from Children against Dow-Carbide an organization of second generation victims.“What is the worth of the PM’s word?” she asks.

According to Rachna Dhingra from the Bhopal group for Information and Action, since the first time that Prime Minister Singh promised action in 2006, nothing has moved in favour of the Bhopalis. Rather, 22 survivors have spent time in high security Tihar jail; 36 people including 12 children have been beaten in the Parliament Street police station; serious charges of assaulting police officers have been filed against a 16-year old Carbide victim and another 75-year old gas victim, and four Chennai-based supporters are facing charges in a Delhi court that could result in a maximum jail term of 5 years. All these people took action to remind the Government of its unkept promises.

Rashida Bee said that they already anticipate violence by Delhi police starting from April 15. She said that they have been told by the Parliament Street police station that out of state protestors, such as those from Bhopal, will not be allowed to camp in Jantar Mantar because of the Commonwealth Games.

“We are beaten and falsely charged just for peacefully reminding the Prime Minister of his unkept promise. If all non-violent and democratic means of articulating our frustration over 25 years of broken promises are prohibited, what does the government expect us to do? Go in to hiding? Take up guns?” asked Rashida Bee.
Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action said that the Prime Minister’s apathy toward the plight of the Bhopalis is in stark contrast to his commitment to keeping their promise to the US Congress and nuclear equipment suppliers. By actively moving the Nuclear Liability Bill even as Bhopalis are fighting for resolution of Dow Chemical and Union Carbide’s liabilities 25 years after the disaster, the Prime Minister is busy indemnifying the likes of GE and Westinghouse Electric from future liabilities that may arise due to nuclear disasters.

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