| Friday 22nd February
2008 | Issue 621
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A blockade by villagers in India is in its sixth week - halting plans by US giant Dow Chemical to build a new 100 acre research plant in Pune. Since January 16th, the road which passes through Shinde - the only way to access the site - has been dug up and occupied by locals and supporters, including 500 women from the local Bhamchandragarth Bachao Warkari Kisan Sangharsh Samiti campaign group (how’s that for a snappy name). There have also been several other demonstrations at the site and elsewhere, and this Saturday (23rd) sees a mass demo in central Pune.
The campaign has gained a lot of national support, with memories still fresh of the 1984 Union Carbide chemical catastrophe in Bhopal - the worst industrial disaster in history (see SchNEWS 523). A leak of methyl isocynate killed 20,000, injured millions more and Union Carbide bailed without bothering to clean the site site up. Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001, but they refuse to accept any responsibility for Bhopal.
Not only are the protesters worried about something similar happening in their region, they also want Dow – a company worth $54bn - to accept liability for Union Carbide’s corporate mass murder and compensate for the 1984 disaster. At a meeting held near the site on February 2nd, Rasheeda Bi from the Bhopal Group for Information and Action said, “We are still suffering in Bhopal as Union Carbide has not yet cleared the toxic waste. It is the right of the villagers to know what kind of unit is coming up in their village. We never knew what was coming and we suffered a lot.”
Dow claims the centre will work on energy conservation, molecular research and even low-cost housing! But while they say they won’t manufacture chemicals, the plant will experiment with volatile chemicals. It is one of three new R&D labs, the others will be in Shanghai and somewhere in Europe.
* On February 20th, Bhopal survivors began an 800km walk to Delhi to confront Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the promises he made two years ago concerning economic, social and medical rehabilitation, and provision of clean drinking water, which are yet to be met.
* See www.bhopal.net
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