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Fury in Bhopal as old wounds are reopened

Fury in Bhopal as old wounds are reopened
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First Published: Mon, Jun 07 2010. 01 24 AM IST

Updated: Tue, Jun 08 2010. 10 34 AM IST
New Delhi: What’s happened today in Bhopal is worse than what happened in 1984,” says a furious Syed M. Irfan, convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, referring to Monday’s verdict by a Bhopal court.
Twenty-six years after the gas tragedy, just when time was beginning to heal the wounds, the scars have been reopened.
Listen to activists Hazara Bi and Nityanand Jayaraman express their outrage at the verdict on the Bhopal gas tragedy
Download link here (Nityanand Jayaraman)
Download link here (Hazara Bi)
The city’s residents, from those directly affected by the disaster to activists and even past employees of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), are enraged by a verdict they think makes a mockery of their demands.
Satinath Sarangi, an Indian Institute of Technology-trained engineer, founded the first organization of the survivors of the tragedy and has been at the forefront of the Bhopal struggle since 1984. The verdict, he says, has been “very disappointing”.
Not everyone is surprised, though. Sanjay Verma lost seven members of his family in the disaster, but there’s no anger in his voice. “It’s been clear all along to me that this would be the outcome,” he says.
In 2006, Verma walked from Bhopal to Delhi with survivors of the gas tragedy to demand that the government set up a separate commission to probe the disaster.
“We even met the Prime Minister but it was made quite clear to us that the interests of multinational corporations could not be touched.”
“The only good that comes of this verdict is that the case can now at least progress to a higher court.”
S. Srimachari, who conducted autopsies of victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, succumbed to the exposure. Mint’s Jacob P Koshy spoke to him few days before his death.
And does he think anything will come of that? He pauses for a minute. “Not really.”
Employees of UCIL, some of whom are still in Bhopal, think the case targeted the wrong people.
Tota Ram Chauhan, who worked as a chemical plant operator at the factory, believes that the local factory staff had little to do with the disaster. “The safety flaws were in the design of the plant,” he says.
The local management pointed these out repeatedly to Union Carbide headquarters in the US, but little was done about it, he says.
The real case, according to him, is that against Warren Anderson and two other Union Carbide employees; it’s still pending in a local court.
So what next? Sarangi is waiting to get a copy of the judgement. His organization will file an appeal. But Irfan has finally run out of patience. “We will do what the Gujjars in Rajasthan did. We will damage train tracks, block roads and break the window panes of government cars.”
akshai.j@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Jun 07 2010. 01 24 AM IST