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Mixed response from gas NGOs

PRIME MINISTER Dr Manmohan Singh?s assurance to set up a commission to look into medical, economic, environmental and rehabilitation aspects of the gas victims has evoked mixed response among the voluntary organisations working among the victims.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 14:50 IST

PRIME MINISTER Dr Manmohan Singh’s assurance to set up a commission to look into medical, economic, environmental and rehabilitation aspects of the gas victims has evoked mixed response among the voluntary organisations working among the  victims.

On the other hand, the NGOs across the spectrum are angry that the Prime Minister expressed his inability on the demands of extradition of former Union Carbide Corporation  (UCC) chairman Warren Anderson and ban on UCC and Dow Chemicals products in India.

Rachna Dheengra, spokesperson for conglomerate of four gas NGOs who ended their stir in Delhi today after meeting with the Prime Minister, hailed acceptance of the four demands as victory for the gas victims.

The demands accepted by the Prime Minister include setting up of a   commission to look into issues of medical care, research, rehabilitation and income generation for the gas victims. The other three demands are providing clean drinking water in areas affected by toxic waste lying in the Union Carbide plant, clean up of Union Carbide plant and construction of a memorial for the gas victims.

The demands that Dr Manmohan Singh did not accept are banning Dow Chemicals to use Union Carbide technology in India, holding Union Carbide and its owner Dow Chemicals responsible for continued tragedy in Bhopal, special prosecution cell for speedy trial of Bhopal gas disaster criminal case and making Union Carbide USA and Union Carbide Hong Kong a party in the litigation.

Convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) Abdul Jabbar said that the two demands where the Central Government could have done something include extradition of Warren Anderson and five time compensation to gas victims. But these demands were completely ignored. 

He further said that setting up of national commission for rehabilitation of gas victims was suggested way back in 1988 and now it is irrelevant. Better than setting up of a national commission would be constitution of an autonomous body and provision of funds for comprehensive rehabilitation of gas victims, he added.

Jabbar further said that the State Government has already announced allocation of Rs 17 crore for provision of clean drinking water in areas inhabited by the gas victims and High Court is seized of the matter of Union Carbide clean up. Similarly, the Planning Commission has already earmarked Rs 10 crore for Bhopal memorial.

‘All in all it is old wine in a new bottle’, he remarked.  Co-convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti (BGPSSS) N D Jaiprakash said that demands accepted today had been there for a long time. He, however, said that assurance by the Union Government today is a step in the right direction.

He further said that how useful the proposed commission turns out to be would largely depend on its terms of reference and its composition. If representatives of NGOs are given adequate representation in the commission it could be useful, he said.

Convener of BGPSSS Sadhna Karnik said that demands accepted by the Union Government today were part of CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat’s letter to Prime Minister on behalf of the gas victims. She alleged that the issues were not properly raised by the NGOs, who met the Prime Minister.

‘For me, inability of the State Government to provide below poverty line (BPL) cards to people in Bhopal is the vital issue. Gas victims are dying for want of food. Similarly, there should be a scientific survey to determine the area and extent of pollution in groundwater due to toxic wastes dumped in Union Carbide plant. There should also be a survey to find out gas victims who are seriously ill and their requirements.

As far as extradition of Warren Anderson or litigation against Dow Chemicals is concerned, NGOs could do little. Only political will of the Centre could make it possible and the UPA Government lacks that, she said.                   

Rachna Dheengra, though happy at  acceptance of four major demands, said, ‘We are ashamed and outraged that the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy has openly admitted his inability to pressurise an American multinational.

She further said that they would take direct and legal action against Dow Chemicals on their own.