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Bhopal Gas Victims Demand Treatment of Children With Birth Defects

Arguing that chromosomal deviation among people exposed to toxic gases from the Union Carbide plant was causing birth defects among their children//, survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy Sunday demanded free treatment of the children and a monthly pension of Rs.1000 from the state government.

The Bhopal tragedy occurred on the night of December 2, 1984, when over 40 tonnes of lethal methyl iso-cyanate (MIC) spewed out of the pesticide plant, in one of worst industrial accident in the country, killing more than 3,000 people and maiming thousands for life. More than 15,000 people affected by exposure to the toxic gas have died since then.

The Chingari Trust set up by Golden Peacock Award winners Rashida Bee and Champa Devi have identified over 120 children born with congenital abnormalities that can be attributed to exposure of their parents to MIC from the award money they got in 2004.

The Trust organizations like the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (BGPMSKS), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (BGPMPSM), Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) and Bhopal Ki Aawaaz (BKA) have been on a sit-in strike for the last six days demanding medical care, economic and social rehabilitation from the state government.

Presenting 14 such children at a press conference here Sunday afternoon, Rachna Dhingra of BGIA said, "These children suffer from defects like cerebral palsy, cleft lip, missing palate and disabilities related to vision, hearing and mental disorders. And their numbers could increase if an in-depth survey is conducted."

"Last year the Trust identified 100 children with different kinds of birth defects in the gas and contaminated groundwater exposed communities. Later, medical specialists from New Delhi and Bhopal, at a health camp in December 2006, found that an unusually large number of children suffered from cerebral palsy that causes total disability," said another BGIA activist Satinath Sarangi.

"Moreover, scientific studies by government and non-government agencies have confirmed the presence of several birth defects caused by pesticides, chemicals and heavy metals in the groundwater in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory. A large number of such children could significantly benefit from surgical treatment and counselling," added Sarangi.

Studies by the MP Pollution Control Board have also shown that pesticides such as endrin, dieldrin, carbaryl, methoxychlor that can cause birth defects are still present in the groundwater samples collected from the area. International environmental organisation Greenpeace reported finding tetra-, penta- and hexa- chlorobenzene as well as lead and mercury in soil and groundwater samples, all of which can cause birth defects.

The four organisations, which said they would continue with the sit-in till the state government responds to their 'Right to Life' campaign, are also demanding monthly pensions for women who were widowed in the disaster, persons who are too sick to earn a livelihood, survivor families living below the poverty line and those above 60 years with no family to depend on.

The campaign was launched Tuesday to push for the resolution of their long-pending demands, including healthcare, economic rehabilitation and social support for the survivors and their families, availability of safe drinking water and removal of hazardous waste from the Union Carbide Corporation's (UCC) now-defunct pesticide plant.


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