Newsletter Sep-Dec 2008

On 3rd December 1984, poison gas leaked from a Union Carbide factory, killing thousands immediately and seriously affecting the health of several thousands more in the years following the leak. 24 years later, justice is still not done and activists from Bhopal started an indefinite hunger strike on 10th June 2008. Nine activists, including survivors of the 1984 tragedy and victims of water contamination caused by the leak, went on the hunger strike to underscore their demands for a special empowered commission for rehabilitation in Bhopal and legal action against Dow Chemical and Union Carbide.

This was a follow up action to the die-in staged by Bhopal activists in front of the Prime Minister's office, where many of them were arrested and manhandled, abused and physically assaulted by the police. The activists, mostly women, along with many children, had marched for 38 days, starting on 20th February all the way from Bhopal and reached Delhi on 28th March. They made a presentation to the Group of Ministers constituted to oversee the matters related to the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster and wrote pleas to the Prime Minister. In an attempt to have their demands heard by the Prime Minister, they chained themselves to the gate of the Prime Minister's office, from where 22 of them were arrested and put in Tihar for 10 days. The Special Magistrate in the first bail hearing initially refused to accept the sureties submitted by various Delhi activists on the grounds that none of them knew the arrested people personally. Eventually, the sureties were admitted but the hearing was deferred to another date. At the next hearing, the magistrate cited the arrested activists’ statements that they will go back to the Prime Minister's office when released, as the reason to not permit bail. Finally, on June 19th after being kept in prison for 10 days, they were released.

Their demands unmet, the protesters launched their second indefinite hunger strike on 1st July and were given an unofficial assurance that the favorable report submitted by the Group of Ministers would soon be acted upon. Not wanting to give up the agitation, a relay hunger strike was started on 9th July, with 800 people from 10 different countries joining in by fasting for a day or longer. In the meantime, during the 172 days of protest in Delhi, nearly 6000 faxes were sent to the PMO, and supporters of the struggle demonstrated outside Indian embassies all over the world.

It was finally only on 8th August, 2008 - after over four months of a sustained campaign in Delhi that included everything from dharnas to protest rallies, rock concerts to poetry readings, storming the PM’s residence to hunger strikes, the Government of India announced that it will set up an Empowered Commission on Bhopal and take legal action on the civil and criminal liabilities of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical. On August 8, in a historic statement made before the representatives of gas victims, the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers agreed to take action on all their other demands as well:

(i) Plan of Action for rehabilitation of Bhopal Gas Victims, (ii) Declaration of the remaining 20 wards of Bhopal as ‘gas affected’, (iii) Continuation of Medical Research by ICMR that had been discontinued since 1994  (iv) Rejection of offer of Sh. Ratan Tata to set up Site Remediation Fund to clean UCIL Plant site, (v) Cancellation of Registration of four pesticides of Dow Chemicals, including Dursban (vi)  Environmental Remediation of the Former UCIL Plant site at Bhopal  (vii) Review of approval of FTC between Reliance and Dow Global Technologies lnc. and finally, the long standing demand for the Extradition of Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide Corporation.