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Parties have no time for gas victims

Bhopal, Nov. 21: The BJP and the Congress may be battling on the development plank, but Bhopal gas victims, Narmada dam oustees, senior citizens, sex workers and other marginalised sections do not merit a mention in the run-up to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections.

The 1984 gas tragedy and its aftermath do not figure in either the Congress or BJP manifestos. This, despite thousands of survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster continuing to suffer in the very heart of the capital. The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Uma Bharti represents the Bhopal parliamentary constituency.

The Congress track record is equally dismal, with rehabilitation minister Arif Aqueel constantly snubbing non-government organisations battling with Dow Chemicals (which has bought over Union Carbide) for removal of 700 tonnes of toxic material. Toxic material lying unattended in the factory premises has been seeping into the pipelines at several residential areas here. J.P. Nagar, Ayub Nagar and Arif Nagar are thought to be worst affected.

Aqueel, who is also the local Congress MLA, did the unthinkable by getting himself photographed recently while drinking the contaminated water.

Abdul Jabbar, who is campaigning on behalf of the gas victims, has alleged that the picture was swiftly produced in US courts by Dow lawyers to show that reports about water contamination were exaggerated.

Several NGOs have filed suits against Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals seeking damages for the environmental and health destruction caused by the December 1984 incident that resulted in the death of 22,146 people. Nearly 570,000 survivors are still suffering due to an indifferent government, a callous health service and meagre compensation.

Every day, about 4,500 patients queue up at government-run outpatient departments complaining of respiratory diseases, stomach ailments, dysentery and nervous system disorders. In a city with a population of 15 lakh, there are 250 private nursing homes, 500 private medical practitioners and over 1,000 “fake doctors” to treat the sick, besides a dozen government-run hospitals.

NGOs like Greenpeace and the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan quote studies that point to the presence of mercury and other heavy metals, chlorinated pesticides and pollutants in the scattered toxic waste. The investigation also found more than 20 tonnes of hexachlorocyclohexane in sacks lying in an open shed in an abandoned factory. HCH is a persistent organic pollutant and an environmental poison linked to immune system and reproductive disorders.

Gas victims are not the only ones being ignored — the plight of thousands displaced by the Sardar Sarovar project from the bank of the Narmada is no different.

The BJP has made noises about rehabilitating the displaced, but activist Medha Patkar says political parties ought to do more than just dish out money. “What about their (the displaced persons’) culture, environment, habitat, places of worship and the emotional attachment that one has with the place of birth,” Patkar asks.

Tribals living in and around forests are facing similar problems. Globalisation and liberalisation has led to the framing of new forest laws. Under these provisions, collecting firewood and other forest produce is regarded as “theft”, though tribals believe “jal, jungle aur zamin” belong to them. In Madhya Pradesh alone, around 150,000 cases have been registered against tribals.

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