Several survivors and activists marched to the defunct Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on Saturday to mark the 38th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy that claimed thousands of lives. Demonstrators marched holding placards with anti-US and anti-Dow Chemical messages, seeking justice for survivors.
In Delhi, some 1,000 members of five organizations of gas tragedy survivors held a rally at Jantar Mantar on Saturday to press for their demand of higher compensation. Toxic gas leaking from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory killed thousands in Bhopal on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984. It is considered one of the worst industrial disasters in the world.
“The protesters took out a two-km march from Nadra bus stand to the Union Carbide factory,” Shahid Noor, president of Bhopal Ki Awaaz, an organisation of children orphaned by the Bhopal gas tragedy, told PTI. People burnt an effigy of Jim Fitterling, the chief executive officer of Dow Chemicals, which had taken over Union Carbide, he said.
Demanding proper treatment for people affected by the gas tragedy, Noor said the state government should provide the correct figure of the deceased to the Supreme Court, which was hearing a curative petition in connection with the tragedy. “We want the accused to be punished. We also demand that the toxic waste lying in and around the closed factory seeping into underground water be removed,” he said.
Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogee Sangharsh Morcha also staged a protest at Lilly Talkies square and burnt effigies of Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals, the organisation’s president Balkrishna Namdeo told PTI. “The victims of the tragedy are still writhing in pain after 38 years. We want the state and the central governments to give the right figures of the victims to the Supreme Court, which is hearing the curative petition,” he said.
The Bhopal Archdiocese organised a prayer service at Pastoral Centre, Arera Colony, for victims of the tragedy with a two-minute silence, followed by hymns and lighting of candles. “We must put all our heads together to stop such a tragedy anywhere in the future,” Archbishop Sebastian Durairaj SVD said.
Earlier, a candlelight vigil was organized on Friday night near the now-defunct Union Carbide factory in memory of the victims.
“Members of the Sambhavna Clinic, which claims to be providing free treatment to the surviving victims for the last 26 years, took active part in a candlelight vigil. It started from Karond vegetable market and ended with the lighting of lamps at the memorial for Gas Tragedy victims,” said Aziza Sultan, a gynaecology assistant with the clinic.
People who were exposed to the poisonous gas in December 1984 continue to die because of its long-lasting effects, she told PTI. “Those who were exposed to the gas in their childhood are dying in their 40s because of chronic diseases of the lungs, kidneys and other organs and due to cancers. Too many gas victims are today dying of cancers of the lungs, gall bladder and uterus,” she said. Official data shows that gas victims died of COVID-19 at a rate more than five times higher that of non-exposed people in Bhopal district, she added.
Meanwhile, leaders of five organizations of gas tragedy survivors expressed hope that the Madhya Pradesh government will fulfil its promises of presenting correct data of deaths and health damage caused by the disaster when the Supreme Court takes up the curative petition next month.
Rashida Bee, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, a trade union of women survivors of the disaster, said, “On November 17, the Principal Secretary of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation (department) assured us that the state government will present correct figures of death in the Supreme Court and also state that the victims have suffered permanent and not temporary injury. A similar promise was made on the 37th anniversary of the disaster, so we will remain sceptical till it is actually done.”
Balkrishna Namdeo of Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogee Sangharsh Morcha said, “On the 36th anniversary of the disaster, the Chief Minister had promised lifelong pension to all women widowed by the gas disaster. Yet, as per official records, 569 such women have not received any pension so far.”
Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action pointed out the state government’s unkept promise of 2010 of inviting global tenders for remediation of the contaminated land near Union Carbide’s abandoned factory. “Eleven years back, the state government promised to set up an expert panel to assess the environmental damage caused by Union Carbide….and seek compensation from them. Since then, the government has not done anything in this direction,” she said.
“On the 26th anniversary of the disaster, the state government had committed itself to setting up a Special Cell for close monitoring of all legal proceedings related to the Bhopal disaster,” Nawab Khan of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha said. “While the Special Cell remains to be set up till today, it is indeed frustrating to watch the state government’s counsel remaining quiet during the proceedings of the curative petition last month,” he said.
“We hope during the hearing on January 10, the state government’s counsel will argue for the revised figures of death and injury,” he said in a press release.
Nousheen Khan of Children Against Dow–Carbide said, “We are pained by the trail of promises broken by the state government but we continue to hope that on this critical matter of securing legal rights to adequate compensation of Bhopal survivors, the state government will deliver its promise. In the words of Ghalib, we hope for loyalty from those who do not know what loyalty is (Humko unsey vafaa ki hai ummeed jo nahee jaanatey vafaa kyaa hai),” he said in a press statement.