Over a hundred Bhopalis poisoned by Union Carbide/Dow’s toxic chemicals and their supporters started their march on foot to New Delhi from February 20 to remind Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the promises he made but did not keep. The people in the Padyatra 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.
Rather than deliver on his promise to the Bhopalis, the Government has actively pursued Dow Chemical's interests. Right to Information records reveal that the PMO is directly involved in attempts to shield Dow from legal liability relating to environmental contamination, and that the Ministry of Commerce has approved the sale of Union Carbide's Unipol technology to Reliance Industries. Union Carbide was proclaimed absconder in 1992, and all its assets are subject to attachment.
Bhopalis are demanding that this approval be revoked, and licenses given to four pesticides fraudulently registered by Dow Chemical after paying bribes to agriculture ministry officials be cancelled. They have also made it clear that the Government should give up attempts to shield Dow from environmental liability, and work to hold the company liable for environmental remediation and compensation to those affected by the toxic water.
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 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.
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 for 15 days and then go on a hunger strike for six days just to meet 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 alleges that that the Prime Minister has kept none of his promises and that in the last two years the PMO has turned a blind eye to Dow Chemical’s illegal activities in India.
Thousands of national and international supporters of Bhopal survivors are taking action throughout the Padyatra. Nationwide supporters of the Bhopal campaign are organizing rallies, meetings and signature campaigns and there are plans of protests at several Indian consulates and Embassies in the US and UK. Concerned citizens from many countries have already begun sending postcards and faxes to the Prime Minister asking him to “walk his talk”.
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 kilometer long march.
Bhopal gas leak survivors and victims of water contamination, set off on an 800 km march to New Delhi from Bhopal at 1 p.m. on 20 February. Anticipated in the capital on 23 March, the marchers are demanding rehabilitation of the survivors, clean-up of the environment, provision of clean water and punishment of the guilty corporations.
This is the second such march in two years. Some marchers, like 70-year old Gulab Bee and Shanti Bhai, are veterans from the earlier march. In that instance, the Prime Minister had refused to meet the Bhopalis even after the foot-weary marchers arrived in Delhi. Only after a 21-day sit in strike by the Bhopalis, including several encounters with the Delhi police, and a 6-day fast did Manmohan Singh meet the protestors and concede their demands.
"After all that trouble, the Prime Minister's word has proven worthless. Two years after his promise, the lot of the Bhopalis has gone from bad to worse," said Rashida Bee, leader of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association). "Our effort this year would be far more difficult for the Government to ignore," she said.
The campaign's substantial international supporter base has assured the survivors that they will picket Indian embassies overseas.
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