Environmental issues ignored in Madhya Pradesh polls

November 25th, 2008 - 4:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party(Editor’s Note: Environment and climate change are among the most important challenges facing humanity today, but have they become key political issues in India? IANS examines how political parties treat them in the current state assembly elections. These reports were produced as part of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship’s Climate Change and Media Programme.)Bhopal, Nov 25 (IANS) The very name of this state capital has become synonymous with ecological disasters, but the election manifestos of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress Party are silent on environment issues.Almost 24 years after tonnes of lethal gases leaked from a Union Carbide factory killing more than 3,000 people instantly and maiming several thousand, the state is still reeling from its after-effects. But environment hasn’t become an issue in the elections due to to be held Thursday.

Explaining why environment does not figure in its manifesto, the BJP says that its government has already formulated an environmental policy that strives for ecological security and conservation of natural resources.

Without going into the specifics, Jayant Malaiya, the Housing and Environment Minister, said: “The (government’s) policy also advocates the integrated approach for tackling environmental and developmental issues. We are committed to the principles of sustainable development and firmly believe that no development process can ignore the importance of environmental conservation”

The Congress says that it is concerned about environment issues even if they aren’t on its manifesto.

Manak Agarwal, the party’s chief spokesperson, said: “So far as including the issue in our manifesto was concerned, each and everything do not find mention in it but that does not mean we are not concerned over the issues.”

As for the Bhopal gas leak survivors, he said: “We have taken full care of the victims and introduced a number of welfare schemes for them during our tenure.”

But thousands of people living around the now-abandoned Union Carbide factory site continue to suffer from direct exposure to toxic substances stored in the area.

The monsoon has for over two decades washed the chemicals deep into the soil and into the underground aquifers, which feed wells around the plant. More than 40,000 people in the area have no other source of water and this has led to a high incidence of cancers and birth defects among them.

Water is the key issue for the survivors and those living around the Union Carbide site.

Social workers operating among the affected communities report that the people face persistent problems such as aches and pains, abdominal pain, joint pain, fevers, rashes, eruption of boils and other skin complaints besides headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, dizziness, giddiness and constant exhaustion because of the water contamination.

Survivors successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of India for clean water and the court ordered in May 2004 that clean, safe water be piped into the communities.

“But the respective state governments have so far done nothing on this front except giving false assurances,” says Abdul Jabbar, convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan (BGPMUS), a group working for the gas victims.

“Of course, some water is supplied to the affected localities through tankers but the supplies are sporadic and no agency, state or otherwise, has yet taken sufficient responsibility for ending long-standing and still developing humanitarian crisis.”

Agarwal blamed the ruling party and said, “The SC order came in 2004 when the BJP was in power in the state and it should have abided by the Court directives.”

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