NGOs working for survivors of the deadly 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal have written to prime minister Narendra Modi to take up the issues of the victims with visiting US president Barack Obama.
In their separate letters, which were released to the media ahead of Obama's arrival in Delhi, the NGOs said Modi and the US president should jointly pledge to end the sufferings of the survivors four decades after the gas disaster.
In its letter, a group of five organisations working under the banner of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal asked Modi and Obama to stop protecting corporate interests over the lives and health of ordinary people. They said the two leaders should reflect on the event and carry out a course correction to end the Bhopal disaster.
The other group comprising Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS), in its letter, asked Modi to take up with Obama two long-pending issues related to the Bhopal gas leak.
Just after midnight on December 3, 1984, tens of thousands of pounds of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a highly toxic gas, leaked into the air over Bhopal from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. According to official figures, the leak caused some 5,000 deaths but activists put the death toll at more than 25,000. In 2006, official estimates put the number of injured at 550,000.
In December, International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal had written a letter to Obama, asking him to acknowledge the central role played by the US administration in the gas disaster and the denial of justice to the victims.
The BGPMUS and BGPSSS pointed out that the letter rogatory issued by Bhopal’s chief judicial magistrate on July 6, 1988 with a request to the US administration to permit the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to visit the US to inspect Union Carbide's pesticide plant at Institute in West Virginia was yet to be acted on.
The US administration had granted permission to the CBI in February 1989 to carry out a comparative study of safety standards installed in the methylisocyanate units of Union Carbide’s pesticide plants in Bhopal and West Virginia. However, a sudden settlement in the Indian Supreme Court in February 1989 prevented the CBI from acting on the directions of the magistrate.
If that were done, Union Carbide’s liability for the Bhopal disaster would have been proved beyond doubt, BGPMUS and BGPSSS claimed.
The NGOs further said Obama should take steps to make Union Carbide’s new owner, Dow Chemical, appear in the magistrate’s court in Bhopal in response to summons issued in 2013. The summons was repeated in November 2014 after Dow Chemical failed to appear in court.
Amnesty International also writes open letter to Obama, Modi
Amnesty International's secretary general Salil Shetty too has written an open letter to Prime Minister Modi and US President Obama, urging them to work together to outline steps to addressing issues related to the Bhopal gas tragedy.
This letter has been signed by Amnesty International India, Hollywood actor Martin Sheen, who played former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson in the movie “Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain”, and organisations representing victims, including Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogi Sangharsh Morcha and Children Against Dow Carbide.
The letter said Indian and US authorities have failed the people of Bhopal for too long. Justice for Bhopal requires the Indian government to demand proper restitution and pursue it vigorously while US authorities should ensure that Dow Chemical is no longer able to evade Indian courts, it said. “Thirty years after the Bhopal disaster, we call on you to show the leadership that has been lacking for so long,” the letter said.