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India Will Establish Panel to Help Survivors of 1984 Bhopal Disaster


The Indian government says it will establish a panel to help survivors of what is called the world's worst industrial disaster - a gas leak in the central Indian city of Bhopal. The announcement came in the wake of a prolonged protest by activists from Bhopal, but as Anjana Pasricha reports, survivors say their campaign will not end.

A day after the government promised to establish a commission to look into the long-standing demands of survivors of the deadly gas leak in Bhopal, scores of campaigners continued their peaceful protest in a park in Central Delhi.

These protesters are mostly survivors of a deadly gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant nearly a quarter of a century ago. Nearly 15,000 people died, and about 100,000 suffer from chronic illnesses.

The activists have been camping in New Delhi for the last two months after walking from Bhopal to draw attention to their demands, which include better medical assistance and compensation for those affected by the disaster.

Junior Minister Prithviraj Chavan says the commission will look into the medical, social and economic concerns of the survivors.

The government's promise has brought some hope to people like 42-year-old Nafisa Khan, who lived in the vicinity of the plant when the gas leak occurred. She says she and her husband and her five children constantly fall sick, and need continuous medical treatment.

Campaigners say they are satisfied that the government has agreed to look into the plight of survivors like Khan. But they say the protest will continue because the government has not clarified if the commission will address other key demands.

Rasheeda Bee heads an organization campaigning for women stricken by the disaster. She says the site of the deadly leak must be cleared of thousands of tons of toxic waste embedded in the soil.

There have been many complaints of inadequate clean-up efforts at the site. Activists say the waste continues to pollute the soil and water, affecting the health of those who live in the surrounding area.

The protesters also want legal action against Union Carbide, the company that ran the Bhopal plant, and Dow Chemicals, which now owns Union Carbide.

Rachna Dhingra, with the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, says it is important to establish corporate responsibility for industrial accidents.

"Bhopal is a precedent making situation, and we just cannot let the killers of Bhopal get away scot-free without any kind of liability, because then it gives the message that companies, multinational companies can come and pollute and leave without any legal liability," said Dhinigra.

Dow says all liabilities were settled in 1989 when Union Carbide paid $470 million to the Indian government for survivors and families of those who died. But the protesters in New Delhi's park have vowed not to leave the Indian capital until this claim is challenged.

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