Bhopal gas victims missed Kalam’s pro-poor activism
Posted December 3, 2011on:
Former President A P J Abdul Kalam is a sensitive person, always commiserating with the poor and those in distress. His recent Rs 200-crore proposal for the socio-economic development of the areas around the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu shows his concern for the people who had to inevitably suffer in various ways because of the oncoming nuclear plant.
Kalam’s plan includes jobs through industries, roads and facilities for fishermen (who are in a majority in the area). “The people of Kudankulam and the surrounding villages should be provided urban amenities at a cost of Rs 200 crore”, he asserts.
Kalam has, however, resorted to activism in favour of the poor and the distressed only when he ceased to be The President. Had he shown a similar zeal while still in office, the lives of the Bhopal gas leak disaster survivors would probably have been less miserable today.
File picture taken on December 4, 1984, Victims in the corridor of Hamidia hospital Bhopal.( Photo:Prakash Hatvalne)
Kalam, then The President, visited Bhopal in September 2002. He was scheduled, besides his other official engagements, to formally inaugurate the Bhopal Memorial Hospital in spite of the protest of the gas victims’ organisations who were demanding dissolution of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) because of the mismanagement caused by former Chief Justice of India A M Ahmadi who was awarded with the chairmanship of the BMHT by the Union Carbide for diluting the penal sections against those responsible for the gas leak disaster.
Apparently appreciating the sentiments of the survivors, Kalam cut short the ceremonial function and spent some time with the patients admitted there, commiserating with their plight. It had given a new hope to the survivors who had been suffering for long because of the unconscionable apathy of the State and Central governments.
Enthused by Kalam’s interest, some organisations of the survivors led by Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) submitted a memorandum to The President listing their problems covering mainly the ill-treatment of the gas victims at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital (which was constructed under a Supreme Court directive specifically for the gas leak survivors), and their rehabilitation — medical, social, economic and environmental.
Then chief minister Digvijay Singh also submitted to The President a memorandum seeking redress of the grievances of the survivors. This was significant as well as astounding. Digvijay Singh is perhaps the most unstable character in the Madhya Pradesh politics. Before he became chief minister in December 2003, he was a part of the agitations launched by the gas victims, sitting on dharnas organised by them and submitting memoranda to the Governor. He, as the PCC president, had got included in the 1993 Assembly election manifesto of the Congress that the problems of the gas victims would be solved on the priority basis if the Congress came to power.
Once he formed the government, Digvijay Singh not only distanced himself from the gas victims but completed the winding up of the projects to help he gas victims, which were started during Motilal Vora’s tenure in the late 1980’s. The process of winding up of these projects was started by Digvijay Singh’s predecessor Sunderlal Patwa of the BJP. The phrase “gas leak survivors” was not even mentioned in the Congress party’s 1998 election manifesto.
Digvijay Singh’s renewed interest in the problems of the gas victims in 2002 had taken the survivors’ organisations by surprise but they were happy, nonetheless.
Had Kalam taken an interest in solving the problems of the gas victims, it would not have been difficult for him to persuade the NDA government at the Centre to agree to his proposals, in spite of the reservations of the BJP leaders on the Bhopal gas issue. And with Digvijay Singh’s renewed interest in the problems of the gas victims, the State government, too, would not have shirked from its responsibilities. But, unfortunately, Kalam commiserated with the survivors for their sufferings while in Bhopal and apparently forgot everything about it on reaching Delhi.