PUCL Bulletin,

April 1985
Science, environment and democratic rights
-- By Vandana Shiva and J. Bandopadhayay

A new Solidarity can emerge within India from the Bhopal tragedy that links the human rights movement with the People's Science Movement, the environment movement, the health movement and the movement for self reliance in development, argue the authors

Myths Shattered
The issue of human rights is just beginning to be raised in the context of science and environment. Human rights were not seen as having a role in science because science was assumed to be objective, universal, neutral and above partisan interests. Human rights in India were not considered relevant to environmental issues because environmental concern was viewed as a luxury of the rich or a CIA bogey to detract developing countries from their path to progress and industrialisation.

The genocide in Bhopal has shattered myths or science as non-partisan and of environmental concern as a luxury. It has displayed how the myth of progress is used to deny people's right to knowledge, and even the right to live. It has shown that the most fundamental of all human rights - the right to survival, is being systematically violated by a "development" pattern that sees people as dispensable. Bhopal also exhibits how while peoples' very lives are threatened, they are denied knowledge of the threat so that they can neither anticipate nor resist threats, nor can they cope with the destruction of human life.

The issues of immediate relief and rehabilitation of the victims of Bhopal. The issues of immediate relief and rehabilitation of the victims of Bhopal are part of the other urgent task of building a nation-wide campaign to prevent such disasters from becoming part of our pattern of development. There is no conflict in terms of priority between the local struggle in Bhopal and a national struggle throughout India between mobilising for relief and rehabilitation and mobilising to impinge on our industrial policy, our science and Technology Policy, our Agricultural policy, our Environmental Policy. These various dimensions of the struggle must go hand in hand, so that they can strengthen each other and inform each other. With this basic assumption that concern with broader policy issues does not exclude the immediate concern with the human tragedy, we would like to present in this article our ideas and feeling about the human rights issues that emerge from the Bhopal tragedy.

Science and Public Interest : Science is industrialisation's Holy Cow. It has not been questioned, evaluated, assessed. It has merely been worshipped and bowed to. People's science movements have also a large extent assumed the objective, non-partisan nature of science. "Science for the People" has conventionally meant popularising the dominant science with the assumption that it is internally progressive and benign. The Bhopal tragedy questions these assumptions in fundamental ways.

Union Carbide's science cannot be a science for the people. It is a partisan science based on profits, and profits justify the destruction of all life, including human lives. A people's science movement must address itself to the following facts:

-Prior to World War I when poisons were discovered for chemical warfare, they were applied as pesticides. Then poisons were not used to control pests. Pests were controlled by application of non-toxic pesticides like neem and by biological control. Toxic Chemicals are not the most effective means for pest control. Scientific alternatives exist which are superior and safer.

-A partisan science serving the interest of profits will be insensitive to the destruction caused by its products. A people's science cannot merely popularise knowledge and use of these destructive and dangerous products. It has a bigger responsibility to evaluate hazards, and to find and popularise safer alternatives.

-Since alternatives exist, a people's science movement in Bhopal cannot merely ask for a re-location of the Union Carbide Plant. It must challenge the very manufacture and use of dangerous chemicals. Mere demand for relocation will not remove the threat of other Bhopals elsewhere. And what is more serious, it will not remove the threat to the thousands of farm workers who die annually due to pesticide poisoning. Finally, relocation of a plant will not solve the fundamental ecological problem created by pesticides of killing predators and leading to pest insurgences.

'MNCs are dispensable, so are their hazardous produces and processes.'

Distorting Information
As the destruction caused by a partisan science increases and as challenged grows, partisan and anti people science will increasingly serve the masters in industry by manipulating and distorting knowledge and information. We have faced this personally in two environment movements. In the controversy over eucalyptus, unscientific and cooked up data have been used to protect the interests of the pulpwood lobby. In Bhopal, experts played similar games - thousands of deaths were not enough to activate their ethical and social responsibility.

The bias in the dominant science and official scientists exists at two levels. At one level, they participate in a partisan science which workers against the public interest, even when honestly practised. Since a partisan science is projected as universal and objective, it often tends to get exposed as partisan. Under such conditions, official experts must start manufacturing distorted data and withholding information.

In this context of the domination by partisan sciences created for profits, people's science movements cannot merely popularise. They must counter-expertise and generate alternatives. The real knowledge of what impact MIC has on human, animal and plant life will emerge not from official teams of experts but from counter experts working in the public interest. And the real impact of pesticide use will not emerge from agricultural universities which are honorary advertisement agencies for pesticide multinationals. It will emerge from the combined efforts of farmers and alternative scientists.

"The genocide in Bhopal has shattered myths of science as non-partisan and of environmental concern as luxury. It has displayed how the myth of progress is used to deny peoples right to knowledge, and even the right to live. It has shown that the most fundamental of all human rights - the right to survival is being systematically violated by a development pattern that sees people as dispensable".

It is in the light of this obligation and right to counter expertise that we would like to interpret the issue of the right to know. Counter-expertise in the case of Bhopal or other pollution disasters amounts to asserting not merely the right to know how people died, but how people can live. It implies more than getting access to Union Carbide or CSIR files. It requires that we all work hard and fast to stop the spread of poisons in our environment, and that we work to challenge the myth that without these poisons we face famine. The myth has been challenged elsewhere and many of these chemicals are banned in the affluent countries.

The environment movement of the affluent world has decreased the hazards of pollution and toxic chemicals in their own countries. This has, however, created a new environmental burden for countries like India. The global relocation of hazardous industry, politely called the new international economic order, is increasing the threat to survival of the people of the poorer countries, where laws, are weak, state bureaucracies are corruption, and pollution is invited as progress. The "limit of growth" had very cleverly laid out this vision of the new international division of labour when it recommended that in 1975 the industrially advanced countries must stop industrial growth and the underdeveloped countries should increase their rate of industrialisation.

While this global relocation in manufacturing activities is proposed as a solution to inequalities generated by the first industrial revolution, the proposal actually camouflauges the new geopolitics supporting the second industrial revolution. The new relocation production and consumption becomes a subtler way of controlling and consuming the resources of the third world by the industrially advanced countries without bearing the environmental costs of such production and consumption. According to Gorz the prescriptions of "Limits to growth" show the path to eco-fascism:

"What a marvellous scheme. For us clean air and water, production of non-material goods, leisure, affluence. To Third world countries, if they are well behaved, material production, dirt, pollution, danger, sweat and exhaution, along with conjested and polluted cities. When the Meadows report looks forward to tripling world-wide industrial production, which recommending zero growth in industrialised countries, does not it imply this neo-imperialist vision of the future?"

The Bhopal tragedy had an instant response from the multinationals that are maintaining and even increasing profits by exporting pollution. The Wall Street Journal completed a survey in less than a month after the disaster which concluded; "Most countries - apparently including the Indian Government - urgently want their relationship with multinational corporations to continue and grow. They need the jobs, infusion of cash, know-how-and the products - even dangerous agricultural chemicals - that the multinationals provide."

In the wake of Bhopal, Indian Government officials naturally aren't stressing the point, but it appears that investments will be courted. Manmohan Singh, the President of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce said in New Delhi the other day, "I don't think India is going to worry too much about multinationals as a result of what happened in Bhopal, except that in case of dangerous processes, we probably will want to get some safety commitments."

"A new solidarity can emerge within India from the Bhopal tragedy that links the human rights movement with the People's Science movement, the environment movement and the movement for self-reliance in development".

MNCs and Human Rights Movements
The issue of the safety again has been twisted to the MNC advantage. The graduate school of Business Administration at New York University has argued that dilution of MNC Control is the cause of disasters like Bhopal. So if Bhopals have to be prevented, our economics must be run by MNC's without local interference. The lessons derived by the MNC's from Bhopal are quite clearly not the lessons that are to be derived by groups working on democratic rights and public interest within India. MNC's are dispensable, so are their hazardous products and processes. A new solidarity can emerge within India from the Bhopal tragedy that links the human rights movement with the People's Science movement, the environment movement, the health movement and the movement for self-reliance in development. Quite clearly it is against the interest of MNC's and the state which hosts and encourages multinationals - that people know the real costs of their product, including the threat to life - because that would destroy the market provided by unsuspecting consumers - Monopoly of knowledge and manipulation of knowledge is not an accident when partisan science serves vested interests. The movement to create alternative sciences which are less destructive to both man and nature is the best challenge to monopolisation and manipulation of knowledge.

Right to Know
The right to knowledge, the rights to an alternative science or counter science is also related to the right to a safe environment. To demand a safe environment, people must know that their life and health is threatened, and that again needs a human rights movement, that is a people's science movement. And since all have the right to a safe environment, it is not enough to restrict this movement to urban areas. Bhopal was genocide - but a worse genocide occurs through poisoning. It is therefore not enough to ask for safer plants for pesticides manufacture. It is imperative to ask for safer pest control technologies. Environments that threaten human well-being and survival include polluted rivers - they include unstable land and water systems. The Chipko movement grew as a response to the threat to the survival of the hills people posed by increasing land-slides and disappearing water resources. A safe environment is equivalent to stable ecosystems. And the environment turns unsafe for the struggling fisherman whose survival base is destroyed by MNC trawlers. The environment is unsafe for the small dryland farmer when his field is surrounded by Eucalyptus cultivation as in Karnataka or sugarcane as in Maharashtra. The environment is unsafe for all inhabitants in river basins where dams are built on geologically unstable sites. In fact each time resources are diverted from poor people's sustenance to profits - an unsafe environment is created for the marginalised people. We have to decide as a community of concerned people whether we will challenge the slow and dispersed processes of death alongwith the repaid and concentrated genocide that took place in Bhopal. Will we struggle to ensure that everyone has a right to survival?

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