GoM jokes on Bhopal gas survivors
Posted December 1, 2010on:
A few peremptory meetings of the Group of Ministers (GoM), a loud noise by some members of the Manmohan Singh government, echoed and re-echoed in a shrill voice by the BJP chief minister of Madhya Pradesh — and the survivors of the Bhopal gas leak disaster are back to square one!
On the 26th anniversary of the disaster on December 3, the survivors will perform the rituals that they have been doing all these years — taking out rallies, shouting slogans against the Central and State governments for their apathy, demanding medical and economic rehabilitation of the survivors and, of course, burning the effigies of former Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) chairman Warren Anderson.
The tragedy that occurred in the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984 has been compounded by the dishonesty of the ruling politicians and bureaucrats. Today, 26 years later, over a lakh of the survivors are in desperate need of medical attention while a large number of the affected persons, whose capacity for hard work has been badly affected, are waiting for economic rehabilitation.
The GoM on the Bhopal gas leak disaster has been a big joke. The first GoM was constituted by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in January 1992. It was headed by Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and comprised Arjun Singh (human resource development), Vijay Bhaskar Reddy (law), and Chinta Mohan, (Minister of State for fertiliser and chemicals). The Group was asked to ensure implementation of the Supreme Court order of October 1991 which related to disbursal of compensation out of the settlement fund and insuring children born just before or immediately after the gas leak tragedy. It was also mandated to frame guidelines for disbursement of the compensation; besides, the GoM was asked to redress the grievances of the survivors’ wherever these arose. Manmohan Singh and his colleagues in the GoM never took any interest in the matter, though there have been complaints galore about the mismanagement and corruption in disbursement of the compensation. Not even a single child has ever been insured, in pursuant to the Supreme Court directive. It was said at the time that the mention of Bhopal gas soured the taste in Manmohan Singh’s mouth.
Another GoM was constituted by Manmohan Singh after he became Prime Minister for the first time. It was headed by human resources development (HRD) minister Arjun Singh and comprised minister of fertiliser and chemicals Ram Vilas Paswan, minister of law Hans Raj Bharadwaj and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Babulal Gaur. This GoM, too, hardly did anything worthwhile for the survivors, though it met several times and made appropriate noises.
The present GoM, constituted after the sham verdict of the Bhopal CJM’s court in June this year and headed by home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, is the biggest joke. The urgency with which it had held the first meeting has not been visible in implementation of its decisions. No steps have been taken to streamline the medical and economic rehabilitation of the survivors. The curative petition for reversing the 1996 verdict of the Supreme Court was deliberately bungled by the attorney general — yes, deliberately, because it is difficult to assume that the attorney general and the battery of lawyers under him do not know how to draft a petition. It was obviously a delaying tactics. The petition was returned by the Registry of the Supreme Court for removing infirmities. The initial clamour died down and the urgency was gone; the purpose was served.
It will not be out of place to mention how the officials of the apex court and the Government of India had conspired to hold the service of notices in a gas victims’ case. Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) convener Abdul Jabbar and seven others representing the survivors, aggrieved by the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s refusal to revise compensation norms in view of the changed circumstances, had moved a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court on March 17 this year. The apex court ordered issuance of notices to the Union Government and the Welfare Commissioner (Bhopal Gas) on April 23, seeking their replies. In the latter half of September the advocates of the petitioners stormed into the Registry of Supreme Court and insisted on the notices being handed over to them so that they could hand-deliver them to the parties – and it was they who served the notices to the respondents in the latter half of September. The petitioners claim that the Union Government had asked the Supreme Court authorities to hold the notices. If this claim is true, it is shameful that the Supreme Court is functioning like a department of the Manmohan Singh government. If not true, it is more shameful that the Supreme Court officials have behaved in such a callous manner in the matter of the Bhopal gas leak survivors.
The subservience of the Indian politicians and bureaucrats — and a part of the judiciary — to the American multinational is not new. They have been behaving like this from the beginning. While the UCC has not revealed the antidote to the MiC gas, which has killed thousands and afflicted lakhs of others with multifarious illnesses, the doctors at Bhopal’s State-owned Hamidia Hospital had hit upon a drug which was providing relief to the victims. The use of this drug had to be abandoned on the orders of the UCC. This has been revealed by Dr N.R.Bhandari in his recently published book “25 Years of Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Inside Story and Untold Truths”. Dr Bhandari was the medical superintendent of Hamidia Hospital and professor and HOD at the Gandhi Medical College (to which the Hospital is attached) when the gas leak disaster had taken place.
After studying the literature, Dr Bhandari felt that sodium thiosulphate, administered intravenously, could help the patients exposed to the MiC leak. This drug was used on many patients and their condition improved. Dr Bhandari writes: “Union Carbide Corporation’s medical director first supported mass administration of thiosulphate, and in another telex message three days later, forbade it.” This was followed by a circular from the director of health services of Madhya Pradesh government warning the doctors against using thiosulphate.