Newspost, Wednesday 04th of July 2007
Bhopal gas victims Wednesday burnt the effigy of Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath here, terming him a ‘traitor’ for his alleged remarks that the investments of Dow Chemicals, that took over Union Carbide, would not be affected in India due to the 1984 tragedy.
‘The minister (Nath) and the government were making a concerted move for an out of court settlement to clear the US firm, which owns Union Carbide, of all responsibility of paying damages to the thousands of gas leak victims,’ the activists claimed after burning the effigy at the busy Nadra bus stand area here.
‘As 100 percent owner of Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals is liable for the clean up of toxic contamination of the soil and groundwater in and around the abandoned factory in Bhopal,’ said Satinath Sarangi, from the Bhopal Group of Information and Action (BGIA) that is fighting for the survivors’ rights.
‘Dow Chemicals is also liable for the health damages, including congenital malformations, caused to the 25,000 people living near the Carbide factory who have been drinking water laced with toxic chemicals and heavy metals for the last 15 years or more,’ he said.
The deadly gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal on Dec 3, 1984, killed more than 20,000 people. An estimated 150,000 people continue to suffer from the toxic effects of the gas, including diminished vision, cancer, respiratory, neurological and gynaecological disorders.
Second generation victims are suffering from growth defects and women from severe menstrual disorders.
However, Dow, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, has rejected the contention that it has inherited Union Carbide’s Bhopal liabilities.
Kamal Nath said in Washington last Thursday that Dow Chemicals’ investments in India would not be affected as a result of the Bhopal gas tragedy even though the government would like to see the court processes on the matter resolved.
‘The tragedy was at Union Carbide, and Dow by integration inherited (it). Dow themselves had no status in this,’ Kamal Nath had reportedly said referring to the tragedy.
However, activists say Dow’s liability flows from the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which is the law of the land both in India and the US.
They maintain the factory site has never been properly cleaned up and the abandoned chemical wastes continue to poison over 10,000 people living in the vicinity.
The gas victims have been demanding Dow to provide medical rehabilitation and economic reparation, clean up contamination in and around the factory site and ensure that Union Carbide Corporation appears before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal, where it faces criminal charges of manslaughter.
The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (BGPMSKS), the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (BGPMPSM) and the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) who held the protests said that Kamal Nath, elected from Madhya Pradesh, had brought shame to the state by being a ‘traitor’ to the gas tragedy victims.
The protesters also waved copies of a note the minister had supposedly written to the prime minister suggesting that the central government should deal with Dow Chemicals on the issue of hazardous waste in and around the factory in Bhopal in a similar manner as it did with Enron which was allowed to leave India without paying its outstanding debts to the Maharashtra government.