Minister's remark on gas tragedy sparks angry protests
during his recent visit to Bhopal, environment minister Jairam Ramesh stirred a hornet's nest when he remarked that the toxic waste stored in the Union Carbide factory was safe to handle.
"I held the toxic waste in my hand. I am still alive and not coughing," he said on September 12. He was in the city to announce a Rs 110 crore memorial to be built to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
The comment irked Bhopal gas tragedy survivors who burnt his effigies and staged protests. The police resorted to lathi- charge and detained 13 protestors, including a three-year-old girl, to quell the protest. The detained were later released on bail.
"The minister's comment displays his ignorance about the slow-acting poisons and belittles the troubles faced by more than 25,000 people in the region whose drinking water is poisoned by Union Carbide's toxins," said Rashida Bi of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, a trade union of women survivors.
"The minister is playing into the hands of criminal corporations," said Syed Irfan of a campaigners group, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha. The 56-year-old lost two of his family members on the midnight of December 3, 1984, when the pesticide factory released 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate that killed 10,000 people instantly.
Ramesh also said that going after Dow Chemicals (Union Carbide's present owner) is not a realistic solution.
"He so often talks about fixing liabilities and now he tells us to move forward and not go after violators," said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
The minister also said the greenery around the factory was much more than most forests in India. "That's a strange comment," said Dhingra.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.