By Pervez Bari, TwoCircles.net,
Bhopal: The agony of the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the world's worst industrial catastrophe, who have been suffering silently for the last over two-and-a-half decades aggravated further on the 27th anniversary of the ghastly accident when police rained canes on the protesters, lobbed tear-gas shells and fired in the air to disperse them from blocking train traffic on the busy New Delhi-Chennai and New Delhi-Mumbai route.
While tens of thousands of the survivors and victims of the Bhopal tragedy came out their homes at about 11: am (IST) to take part in the "Rail Roko" (Train Blockade) agitation on the call given by five NGOs working for their welfare, 10 of them were injured, some grievously and were hospitalized eight others were arrested and were sent to jail but were later on let off in the evening.
Bhopal Gas victims staging 'Rail Roko' agitation on 27th anniversary of the disaster
The "Rail Roko" stir was called off after the representatives of the five NGOs met the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister who reportedly assured to concede all their demands including submission of correct figures of deaths and injuries in the gas disaster in the curative petition in the Supreme Court.
The CM said he would write to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, supporting the survivors’ demands.
Balkrishna Namdeo of Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha said: "We have given January 3, 2012 deadline to the chief minister to give correct figures before the Supreme Court or else survivors would again stop trains".
The "Rail Roko" was organized at four points from Nishatpura to Barkhedi railway crossing in the city which was otherwise peaceful as the survivors squatted on the tracks and some even lay down on it. However, at Barkhedi crossing near Aishbagh Stadium police first snatched the mike of the public address system fitted in an auto-rickshaw from announcements were being made for the survivors to maintain peace. Thereafter, the policemen started to drag the elderly women survivors in order to clear the rail rack and cane-charged them mercilessly.
A view of arson which took place after Police lathi-charged on protesters
Seeing this the youths amongst the protestors became wild and took to stone pelting immediately and indulged in arson. While the road metal (80 mm stones) lying in abundance on the rail tracks came handy for the youtha to shower the police with it which had to make a tactical retreat. Bhopal District Collector Nikunj Shrivastava and City Superintendent of Police (CSP) HN Guru were injured in the heavy stone pelting. In the melee that ensued four police vehicles and a number of two wheelers were torched by the protestors to express their ire. A police jeep and an OB van of ETV news channel were also damaged in the stone pelting.
It was for the first time in the last 27 years of the gas tragedy that such an untoward incident took place where the survivors were cane-charged, tear-gassed by the police who even fired in the air.
However, talking to media persons Collector Nikunj Srivastava said that some anti-social elements got mixed with the agitators and they pelted stones at policemen. "We lathi-charged them and fired in air too to disperse them", he added.
According to West Central Railway Divisional Railway Manager, (DRM), Ghanshyam Singh said the traffic was disrupted on the Delhi-Chennai route.
Many trains were stranded at Vidisha, Itarsi and Habibganj stations due to the agitation.
When this Correspondent visited the Bhopal railway station in the afternoon it wore a deserted look where 12722 Hazrat Nizamuddin-Hyderabad Express stood stranded. Late in the evening the train traffic resumed and was slowly limping to normalcy. When asked whether they had taken any precautionary steps, Bhopal station manager A.S. Yadav told this Correspondent that it was the duty of state government to tackle the law and order issue as gas survivors had already announced their programme.
Five NGOs working for the welfare of the survivors had announced more than a month earlier to stage indefinite "Rail Roko" on December 3 to draw the Central and the Madhya Pradesh State Government's attention to the plight of the victims and their long pending demands of adequate compensation and rehabilitation.
According to Ms Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action, an NGO working for survivors, this protest was against both the 2012 London Olympics organizers, who have taken the sponsorship of Dow Chemical, the owner of killer Union Carbide factory, and the government indifference towards gas victims".
Ms Dhingra said as placard-waving protestors attempted to block trains traveling to and from the Bhopal railway station, police baton-charged the crowd, which then responded by pelting stones at the officers.
An elderly woman who was injured in the police assault.
She said that the "Rail Roko" was a desperate last attempt to get the Indian government to publish the true figures of deaths and injuries attributable to the 1984 gas disaster. It is well recognized the numbers of victims were vastly underrated.
Ms Dhingra said the $470 million 1989 settlement between Union Carbide and the Indian government was based on those figures, consequently the compensation available to victims was pitifully inadequate. That settlement was not, as Union Carbide's alter ego Dow Chemical (they merged into one operation in 2001) claims "full and final". It was reopened by the Supreme Court in 1991 when criminal charges were reinstated against the Union Carbide. The present government has gone back to the Supreme Court with a "curative petition" to seek additional compensation from the company on the basis of what we now, 27 years later, know to be the scale of the human toll, she added.
She revealed that while welcoming the curative petition, the survivors are frustrated because the government is still not publishing the true figures. For example, the curative petition counts 5295 deaths, but the government's own figures, obtained from the Indian Council of Medical Research, (ICMR), and other government bodies, put the true death toll at 22,917, she further added.
Meanwhile, after seeing the situation taking a violent turn Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan met the representatives of the NGOs and assured that appeal will be reiterated for compensation in death category in cases where kin of gas victims dying of permanent or temporary disability are not being provided compensation in death category, but under seriously injured category.
He will make an appeal to the Prime Minister in this connection. He informed that he had also made an appeal to the Prime Minister in this connection earlier also and will reiterate this appeal again. He told the representatives of gas victims that if they wish they can also join the delegation led by him during the meeting with the Prime Minister.
The Chief Minister said that setting up a special court will also be considered for speedy disposal of pending court cases of gas victims. On the insistence of Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information & Action, the Chief Minister reportedly assured to order an impartial investigation into Saturday's violent incident.
Chouhan said this during meeting with representatives of gas victims at his residence here today. Chouhan said that he has been striving to ensure that gas victims of every category get maximum compensation and these efforts will continue in future also.
Chief Minister Chouhan said that a team of experts will be constituted to assess damage to population and environment due to gas leak. Demand of more compensation will also be made on its basis. He informed that the project aiming at benefiting gas victims will be redesigned.
On the other hand hundreds of survivors in a rally led by activist Abdul Jabbar, convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan, marched from Yaadgar-e-Shahjahani Park to Kamla Park and handed over a memorandum to a sub-divisional magistrate enlisting four demands which included adequate compensation to the gas victims.
Before the start of the rally a public meeting was held at the Yaadgar-e-Shahjahani wherein social activists from Japan Yoichi TANI and from Canada Ms Catarina also participated.
The survivors were administered an oath by Abdul Jabbar wherein they pledged to continue the struggle till their last of breath so that the people of Bhopal who were victims of the tragedy could get justice and another Bhopal does not take place again.
Meanwhile, expressing grief over the 27th anniversary of Bhopal gas tragedy, Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav said this incident has left an indelible mark on the hearts of Bhopal's residents. It cannot be forgotten or erased from their memories. He said that such an incident should not be repeated anywhere in the world. He expressed satisfaction on what the State Government is doing for the Gas victims' relief and rehabilitation.
A view of stone pelting>
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, MP Kailash Joshi, Urban Administration Minister Babulal Gaur, Home Minister Umashankar Gupta, Bhopal Mayor Mrs. Krishna Gaur, MLA Mr. Dhruv Narayan Singh, Bhopal Municipal Corporation Chairman Kailash Mishra and Chief Secretary Avani Vaish were also present at the all-religion prayer.
Besides, representatives of various religions recited their respective scriptures for the peace of those who died in the gas tragedy.
Meanwhile, Ajay Singh, Congress leader of the Opposition in Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, has bitterly criticized the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled state government for the police atrocity on the survivors of the gas tragedy. He said that the police action and the district administration role has added one more black chapter in the tragedy which occurred 27 years ago.
It may be recalled here that 40 tones of methyl isocyanate, (MIC – a highly volatile toxic chemical), gas spewed from the pesticide plant – owned by Union Carbide India Limited, (UCIL), a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA - in the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984. The gas leak killed 3,000 people instantly and more than 25,000 over the years and inflicting grievous injuries on countless others. Many were deformed for life and many children born with the toxic effect are sick and with congenital malformations. It also affected 100,000 people that night and estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer till date. ([email protected]