DHARNA IN KOLKATA
IN an exceptional show of determination, thousands of disabled persons staged a sit-in demonstration in front of the United States Information Centre in Kolkata on July 12. Their indomitable spirit could not be drenched by the heavy rains that lashed Kolkata that day. They had assembled at the call of the Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani, in a show of solidarity with the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy that had killed nearly 22,000 people, maimed many and left thousands disabled for life.
Fifty-seven buses were chartered by the Sammilani units to bring in disabled persons from various districts of the state to participate in the programme. Around 400 of them from North Bengal had to travel overnight to reach Kolkata to take part in the programme. In all, there were around 4,000 people.
A highlight of the programme was the participation of seventeen victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster, who had come all the way from Bhopal. These disabled people were led by Sadhna Karnik Pradhan, an activist working among the gas-affected people in Bhopal. Many eminent artists and sportspersons joined the programme and condemned the criminal behaviour of the Union Carbide which for years has been shying away from its responsibility of providing adequate compensation and rehabilitating the affected. They also condemned the attitude of the central government for ignoring the plight of the victims all these years. Even many of the current recommendations made by the Group of Ministers are an eyewash, they felt.
Prominent among those to address the participants were Kanti Ganguly, general secretary of the Sammelini and minister for sports and Sundarban affairs. Pratim Chatterjee, minister for fire services in West Bengal, artist Wasim Kapoor and swimmer Masudur Rahman also addressed.
All the speakers accused the successive governments, both at the centre and in Madhya Pradesh, of serving the interests of corporates like the Union Carbide. They also pointed out that sections of the judiciary were also affected by this approach. The speakers drew attention to the fact that this attitude and callousness were more so since the victims were mostly poor. A tragedy that could have been averted if only adequate safety measures had been put in place, was allowed to happen because of the criminal negligence of the multinational giant and the complicity of the local administration.
The complicity of the governments of that time, both at the centre and in Madhya Pradesh, in trying to shield the guilty responsible for this horrendous crime and facilitating the escape of Warren Anderson, the CEO of the Union Carbide, drew universal condemnation. The speakers also emphasised that the introduction of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill in Rajya Sabha reveals that there has been no change in the outlook and perception of the Congress-led central government.
Participants from Bhopal drew attention to the inadequate amount of compensation and said that this was the cheapest settlement in any major industrial disaster in the world. Even today, a large number of gas-affected people continue to die. Disabilities have incapacitated many and rendered them unemployable. Visits to hospitals for treatment of the after-effects of the gas leak have become a routine for many of the survivors. People continue to drink contaminated water.
A five-member delegation comprising, among others, Sammelini joint secretaries Sailen Chaudhury and Prabir Saha submitted a memorandum addressed to the American ambassador through the consular general’s office in Kolkata. It demanded, among other things, the immediate repatriation of Warren Anderson to face trial in India, payment of adequate compensation for the victims, lifelong support to the affected, and immediate and safe removal of the toxic waste from the UCC premises at Bhopal.
The programme concluded with the burning of an effigy of Warren Anderson amidst slogans demanding the bringing of the culprits to book and justice to the victims.
(Muralidharan in Delhi with inputs from Bibek Bardhan in Kolkata.)