Step closer to justice for Bhopal

Feature story - 23 June, 2004
The government of India has finally bowed to pressure and agreed to allow a US Court to possibly rule that Dow Chemical should clean up the site of the ongoing Bhopal disaster. Mounting pressure from three determined hunger strikers, intensive lobbying by us, other Bhopal groups and thousands of online activists helped turn round the position of the Indian government.

Union Carbide accident survivor's weekly meeting, Bhopal, India

"This statement brings us one step closer to a historic order by the US Court directing Union Carbide (now owned by Dow) to clean up the toxic contamination in and around the factory premises in Bhopal," said Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal activist and one of those on hunger strike. "Such an Order will not only uphold the 'Polluter Pays' principle, but will set a precedence to hold multinational companies accountable in their home country for their actions abroad."

More than 20,000 people have been affected by the serious contamination emanating from the tonnes of toxic chemicals and chemical waste dumped in and around the Union Carbide factory premises. They, and their supporters from around the world, now expect the US District Court to order Union Carbide to clean up the contamination at Bhopal to the best global standards possible.

"We hope that the Prime Minister who intervened in this matter will show the same kind of sensitivity and alacrity in dealing with other pending issues in Bhopal and in holding Union Carbide's new owner Dow Chemicals liable for the pending issues in Bhopal," said Rasheeda Bi, winner of the Goldman Prize 2004, who has also been on hunger strike since June 18th along with Mr Shahid Noor, who was orphaned by the gas leak in 1984.

Thousands of people also urged action from the Indian government from our online action, thank you to everyone who took part in this and other actions. Hundreds of Bhopal supporters, who have also been on hunger strike in solidarity with the three activists fasting in Dehli, celebrated the good news by breaking their fast.

The worst chemical disaster ever

The Bhopal disaster in 1984 is the world's worst chemical disaster ever. Toxic gas leaked from the poorly maintained and understaffed plant owned by Union Carbide. With safety systems either malfunctioning or turned off, an area of 40 square km, with a resident population of over half a million, was soon covered with a dense cloud of MIC gas. People woke in their homes to fits of coughing, their lungs filling with fluid. During the first three days after the accident, over 8,000 people died.

Since the disaster, over 20,000 people have died from exposure-related illnesses, and of the approximately 520,000 people exposed to the poisonous gases, an estimated 120,000 remain chronically ill.

The survivors have never received adequate compensation for their debilitating illnesses and even almost 20 years after the disaster, the polluted site of the abandoned factory, bleeds poisons daily into the groundwater of local residents. Bhopal is an ongoing disaster and Union Carbide's new owners, Dow Chemical, should pay to clean up the toxic mess.

New Hope

On March 17 the US Court of Appeal, in a class action suit initiated by survivors' organizations and individual survivors of Bhopal, said that Union Carbide may be directed to carry out the Bhopal plant-site remediation "in the event that the Indian government or the State of Madhya Pradesh seeks to intervene in the action or otherwise urges the court to order such relief."

Now the Indian government has urged the court to order the clean up we hope that the court takes the right decision and makes the polluter pay.