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Press Association
Fri 3 Dec 2004
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1:38pm (UK)
BBC Hoaxed as Bhopal Marks Disaster Anniversary


Twenty years to the day after a cloud of deadly gas savaged the central Indian city of Bhopal, about 1,500 demonstrators and survivors marched through the streets, demanding justice for those still suffering the effects of the world’s worst industrial disaster.

The crowd – spanning all ages of Indian society – shouted and waved signs as they walked through Bhopal’s streets not far from the remains of the Union Carbide pesticide plant that leaked the gas over the city killing up to 15,000 people over the years.

“Never again should a Bhopal happen anywhere in the world,” they said.

Their hopes were briefly raised when BBC World Television – falling victim to a cruel hoaxer – reported that a £6 billion compensation fund had been set up today.

A man, claiming to be a spokesman for Dow Chemicals, who now own Union Carbide, told a reporter that the company accepted full responsibility for the disaster would pay 12 billion dollars in compensation

Dow immediately denied the report and the BBC said: “This interview was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception.”

Balkrishna Namdev, a rights activist, told the crowd that gathered outside the graffiti-covered walls of the abandoned factory. “However long it takes, our struggles to get justice will go on.”

On December 3, 1984, about 40 tons of poisonous gas leaked from the pesticide plant, killed at least 10,000 people and affecting more than 555,000 others, although the exact number of victims has never been clear. Many died over the years due to gas-related illnesses, like lung cancer, kidney failure and liver disease.

Despite today’s flurry of international attention, few people in Bhopal believed the victims would be remembered very long once the television crews, journalists and organisers left.

“This has become an annual drama. Every year, we march, we shout slogans and we burn an effigy. Nothing comes of it. Our suffering remains the same,” said Ram Pyari, who lost her husband and two sons in the disaster.

Certainly, public outrage appears to be dimming.

Organisers had predicted a turnout of several thousand people, but in the end only about 1,500 came, said Hari Narayan, a local police officer.

In other parts of the city, life went on as usual.

Earlier in the day, at least three protest rallies organised by different groups of Bhopal residents and aid groups working with disaster victims marched through the city before arriving at the factory gates.

“Don’t forget the victims of the genocide in Bhopal!” ”Death to Dow!” and “We will fight, we will win!” the protesters shouted. Their banners carried similar slogans, accusing Union Carbide and Dow Chemical of inadequate compensation and medical help for the victims.

While millions of pounds in compensation has been set aside, much of the money has been tied up by bureaucratic and legal issues and many people have received little or nothing.

“For the last 20 years I’ve been visiting the hospital and government offices, begging for compensation to take care of my two children,” said Leelaben Aherwar, whose baby girl survived the gas leak but immediately afterward began showing signs of mental and physical retardation.

Her son, born a few years later, suffers from similar problems. “The answer is always the same: ’The court will make a decision.’ I don’t know what court is this that cannot see our suffering,” she said Friday.

So far, she has received about £185.

Union Carbide paid £250 million in compensation under a settlement with India’s government in 1989. But only part of that amount has reached the victims.

The protesters also called on Dow Chemical to clean up the plant site, where rusted pipes and pesticide storage tanks have collapsed or ruptured in the years since the plant was abandoned after the disaster.

Union Carbide insists the tragedy was due to sabotage by a disgruntled employee and not shoddy safety standards or faulty plant design, as claimed by many activists.

The company claims that 3,800 people were killed, while Indian officials say up to 15,000 may have died.

Indian officials estimate that nearly 600,000 more have become ill or had babies born with defects over the last 20 years.

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