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London Assembly Member Navin Shah joins Anti-Dow Demonstrators in Trafalgar Square

At midday today I joined the campaign group Drop Dow Now in a ‘die-in’ in Trafalgar Square. The protestors lay under shrouds at the Olympic Clock as part of an international day of action against Dow Chemical’s Olympic sponsorship. There are also actions in India, the US and Canada today: in Bhopal, India over 100 survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster staged a similar ‘die-in’ demonstration.

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Drop Dow Now is calling for Dow’s sponsorship of the London Games to be dropped due to Dow’s connections to the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984. The disaster killed over 20,000 and caused injury and illness to thousands more. Dow bought Union Carbide, the company which owned the site in Bhopal when the gas leak occurred, in 2001. The site of the disaster has still not been cleaned up, which has caused contamination of the water supply for thousands of Bhopalis. Hundreds of children continue to be born every year with birth defects as a result.

Whilst I’m fully supportive of the London Olympics, I am deeply disappointed with the attitude of LOCOG and the IOC for failing to do anything about this issue. As campaigners we are committed to continuing this movement to get rid of toxic organisations such as Dow from what are supposed to be sustainable and ethical worldwide Games. We will continue to fight for justice for the victims in Bhopal.

Meredith Alexander, who resigned from the Commission for a Sustainable London in January over Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympics, commented, “Although there is just one month to go before the Games begin, the victims of Dow's disaster in Bhopal are still waiting for LOCOG to acknowledge that the London Olympics are adding to their suffering.

“Dow's high profile involvement in the Games is a slap in the face to the people who have been fighting for years to get justice. Even if it is not possible to remove the Dow wrap, an official apology from the London Games organisers would mean the world to the people who lost loved ones or suffer life-long illness because of the gas leak. Dow's sponsorship is a toxic stain on these Games. Athletes, Londoners and spectators the world over would be better able to enjoy the Olympics if the problem is addressed before they begin."

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Colin Toogood from the Bhopal Medical Appeal said, “Everybody knows that Dow did not own the Bhopal factory at the time of the disaster. But this does not stop them from being responsible now. There is a criminal case still open against Union Carbide (UCC) for ‘culpable homicide’, and Dow refuses to present UCC in court. Dow is harbouring a fugitive from the law and preventing justice being done in Bhopal. Worse than that, while the legal process is stalled, people in Bhopal continue to be poisoned by toxic chemicals. Dow Chemical has both the power and the responsibility to stop this from happening.”

Amy Jonson from Drop Dow Now said, “Dow has been trying to whitewash its toxic reputation with this Olympic sponsorship. They are trying to ignore their responsibilities to the people of Bhopal, where the environmental and humanitarian disaster is ongoing. We will not let this happen.”

By Navin Shah AM

A lesson from Delhi for Boris

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By Navin Shah AM, Member of Labour Friends of India Policy Forum

The Delhi Metro has become the first rail system in the world to earn ‘carbon credits’ under a United Nations scheme. The credits were given by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which gives firms in developing countries an incentive to cut greenhouse gases.

As transport links suffer from government cuts and London suffers from some of the worst urban pollution in Europe, the Delhi story provides a timely reminder of the value of environmentally-friendly and affordable transport.

The Delhi Metro was launched in 2002, and aimed to tackle massive congestion in the city. Delhi has 14 million inhabitants and a population density of almost 12,000 people per square kilometre (as a comparison, London has around 5,000 people per square kilometre), leading to massive congestion and pollution.

The effects of creating an environmentally-friendly metro on this problem are truly impressive.

The Metro carries about 1.8 million people every day. It is estimated that it has helped to have taken 91,000 vehicles off the road. 90% of vehicles circulating in Delhi are personal vehicles, and for every passenger who chooses to use the Metro instead of a car or bus contributes to a 100gm reduction in carbon dioxide for every trip of 10km or more.

Not only is this improving the lives of Delhi’s commuters, and reducing pollution in the city, it is the kind of cumulative contribution in the battle against climate change that is so valuable.

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Earlier this month, a major report found that London ranked among Europe’s unhealthiest major cities, with only Dusseldorf, Milan and Rome ranked lower, and had taken "backwards steps" in combating pollution. The European Union has consistently had to press the government over its failure to meet minimum air quality standards in London. Another study found that pollution in London causes 4,267 early deaths.

Despite all this, Boris Johnson has scaled back the congestion charge, introduced above inflation rises in rail fares and government spending cuts have delayed the Crossrail project.

With London rail fares set to increase 2% above inflation 7% in January 2012 it appears that Boris Johnson has failed to grasp the connection between transport, pollution and the economy.

As Labour Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone said

"Fares must be cut on transport grounds to make the system more attractive, but also on economic grounds to put ordinary Londoners first by putting money back in the pockets that will boost the London economy."

The Delhi Metro Carbon Credits for which it will receive £6.1m annually, which will increase as passenger numbers rise show how long-term planning can pay off both environmentally and economically. Whilst this UN scheme is open only to developing nations, it still pays for London transport to be environmentally sound.

It is estimated 725,000 work days are lost across the European Union annually due to pollution. The savings are not just the result of an improved environment, but an efficient transport system is also a massive plus to the economy. It is estimated that a 5% reduction in travel time could save British businesses £2.5bn a year, whilst traffic congestion is believed to cost the UK economy £25bn by 2025.The authorities in Delhi have understood this, and the return on their investment in environmentally-friendly transport is evident not only in the £6.1m they will now receive each year or the 91,000 vehicles they have taken off the road, but the improvements in quality of life for its citizens.

The value of an efficient public transport system is immeasurable, affecting every corner of city living.

 

Visit to the Shri Swaminarayan Nutan Mandir, Bhuj, Gujurat, India

Inauguration of the Shri Swaminarayan Nutan Mandir, Bhuj, Gujurat

 

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I was delighted to take a couple of short breaks in February and May 2010 to see the redevelopment of the temple complex. The visit in May 2010 was to participate in the Nutan Mandir Mahotsav, a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new temple in Bhuj, Gujurat State, India. This was one of my many visits to Bhuj since the old, historic temple was flattened by the 2001 earthquake and I have followed the nine years of planning, design and construction with a keen interest. The finished result is a beautiful white marble temple with superb, intricate carvings by incredibly impressive workmen and the grandeur of the Mandir provides this important, ancient city with a beautiful yet modern place of worship.

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1st September 2010