MP polls: Bhopal gas tragedy back in focus

MP polls: Bhopal gas tragedy back in focus

The Bhopal gas tragedy is an issue that no political party is willing to discuss nor does it find any mention in any party’s manifesto, speeches or pamphlets. But even after 34 years, it haunts leaders as election campaign reaches a crescendo.

On Thursday night a poster of a blinded girl child greeted Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan when he began his roadshow from DIG bungalow locality in Bhopal to seek votes for the BJP’s lone candidate, Fatima Rasool Siddiqui.

The poster, which also had two huge pictures of Chouhan, was a jarring reminder of the conflicting priorities. “Jo muaawaja dilayega, vote wahi le jaayega; Bhopal gas piditon ki awaaj, pahle muaawaja phir party (Only one who gets us compensation will get votes; first compensation then the party is the call of Bhopal gas victims)," the poster read.

Poster of Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims seeking compensation at the venue in Bhopal where CM Shivraj Chouhan began his road show on Thursday night. (DH Photo/Anand Mishra)

The same day, leaders of four organisations of survivors of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal held a press conference charging Minister of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation, Vishwash Sarang, of “deliberate inaction” on the issue of criminal liability of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). 

The organisations—Bhopal Group for Information and Action, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh and Children against Dow Carbide - alleged that not a single step has been taken by the minister in the last eight months to prevent UCC from escaping criminal liability for the disaster in 1984 that as per official records killed over 3700 people.

Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action blames both the Congress and the BJP governments in the state for the apathy. Arjun Singh was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister of India at the time of the incident.

The organisations said that the Union Carbide Corporation, that is charged with culpable homicide and other grave offences, is fully owned by Dow Chemicals since 2001.

Last year, Dow Chemicals merged with DuPont Inc and in February this year, Dow-DuPont Inc has announced plans to trifurcate in a manner that makes Union Carbide disappear after June 2019.

“While the Congress governments colluded with Union Carbide in the earlier phase of the Bhopal disaster, in the later years, the BJP governments outdid it. Since the BJP came to power at the Centre, five notices sent by the Bhopal District Court asking Dow Chemicals to explain why it is not making Union Carbide appear in the on-going criminal case on the disaster have been ignored.”

Nawab Khan, president of Bhopal Gas Pidit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, says, “By failing to act against the imminent disappearance of UCC, the BJP governments at the state and the Centre are repeating what they accuse the Congress party of. Our letter to the CBI, the prosecutors in the criminal case, got forwarded to the local police station. It is like history is repeating itself as farce.”

Meanwhile, several victims, backed by the organisations, have decided to seek written assurances from the candidates of various parties that they would ensure proper compensation.

“The compensation we got is a farce. As many as 94% victims have been paid only Rs 25,000 as compensation as they were declared temporarily injured and also because they went to a hospital only for a day. We are telling the victims that as voting is your right, so is compensation. Use your right to vote to get your right to compensation. There are 5.74 lakh victims and this is a huge number even electorally,” the activists say.

In some localities like JP Nagar, Blue Moon Colony, Kachchi Chhola and Cholla, women have come out in protests and asked for written assurances from candidates. Leaflets have also been distributed in some localities.

And the politicians are also making promises as elections are around the corner.

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