Protests mark anniversary of Bhopal tragedy

Environmental activists were to kick off a series of protests and vigils in India on Friday to mark the 21st anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, which claimed thousands of lives.

In New Delhi, the global environmental group Greenpeace, demanding better conditions for survivors, was to act out a recreation of the disaster which struck the central Indian town of Bhopal just before midnight on December 2, 1984.

About 40 tonnes of lethal methyl isocyanate gas billowed from the Union Carbide plant, located 740km from the capital.

In Bhopal, a museum dedicated to victims of the tragedy was inaugurated on Friday.

Children born with deformities in the city following the disaster were to lead a protest march to the industrial site in the evening.

Thousands of people were also expected to join a night-time vigil in Bhopal on Saturday, organisers said.

Survivor Champa Devi Shukla, vice-president of the Bhopal Gas Affected Stationary Workers’ Union, which represents staff of units established by the government to rehabilitate survivors, was to join the Greenpeace protest.

“We are still suffering from the effect of contaminated water. When my daughter was born four years ago, she had no lips or nose. No one wants to marry the girls there, as they do not menstruate because of toxic water,” Shukla told Agence France Presse.

Activists say that around 20 000 people living near the site of the Union Carbide plant are still drinking contaminated water.

“We want to remind the government that similar disasters are waiting to happen across the country because of the presence of industrial wastes in the environment,” said Greenpeace media officer Namrata Chowdhary.

Survivors have also been battling for medical care and financial compensation for years.

Environmental activists want Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, to clean up the site which they say contains thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals.

“We are also fighting for the clean-up of industrial waste to international standards at the site and adequate compensation for the survivors,” said Greenpeace campaigner Vinuta Gopal.

Dow says all liabilities were met when Union Carbide paid a $470-million settlement.
The company says it has no responsibility for cleaning up the site or for any toxins still leaching into the ground.

More than 3 500 people died immediately from the gas leak but the total death toll has climbed to over 15 000 today, according to government figures.

Bhopal rights activists say the real figure is double that while Amnesty International estimated last year that between 22 000 and 25 000 people had died as a result of the tragedy.

Officials say about 800 000 people still suffer from various after-effects of inhaling the poisonous fumes. - AFP

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