Gas victims ignored again
Posted February 4, 2012on:
It was the impotent rage of the survivors of the Bhopal MiC gas leak disaster that made them resort to ‘rail roko’ agitation on the 27th anniversary of the world’s biggest industrial disaster and later burn the effigy of home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram. As chairman of the GoM on Bhopal gas disaster, Chidambaram has been as callous and insensitive to the problems of the survivors as Manmohan Singh was during the Narasimha Rao government.
The provocation for the survivors’ anger against Chidambaram was provided by the decision of the GoM at its latest meeting not to revise the figures of death and injuries in the curative petition (civil), now pending before the Supreme Court, for enhanced compensation. Nawab Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (BGPMPSM) alleged Chidambaram’s close association with Dow Chemical (which had taken over Union Carbide in 2002). They demanded removal of Chidambaram from the post of the chairman of the GoM. The survivors quoted from a letter written by Chidambaram (then finance minister) to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in 2006, pleading that Dow Chemical should be exonerated from its liabilities in the Bhopal disaster.
The Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) claimed that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had estimated that by 1997 over 15,000 people had succumbed to the tragedy but in court, the government only spoke of 5,295 deaths.
The sham verdict of the Bhopal CJM’s court in June 2010 (when the accused in the gas leak disaster were treated like VIPs by the CJM in his court and released on bail as soon as the sentence was announced) had created a big uproar inside and outside the country. The GoM, presided over by Palaniappan Chidambaram had met urgently and given the impression as if the Government of India was, for once, sincere in its approach. But it turned out to be a false hope, once again. . No steps have been taken to redress the grievances of the survivors. The curative petition for reversing the 1996 verdict of the Supreme Court was deliberately bungled by the attorney general and then rejected by the five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice S H Kapadia who had, though, observed during the hearing that the Supreme Court had gone beyond its jurisdiction in delivering the 1996 verdict. The GoM has failed to come up with an effective mechanism to ensure medical rehabilitation of the victims and also to suggest avenues of providing them some means of earning their livelihood, suitable to their physical condition
If the Government of India, more particularly the GoM, has been ignoring the interests of the Bhopal gas leak survivors quietly, the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh has been doing the same noisily. After the CJM’s infamous verdict of June 2010, State BJP president Prabhat Jha had, of all the persons, made a public statement that if the Central government did not pay adequate compensation to the survivors, the State government would pay. The chief minister has, of course, been making so many promises that it is difficult to keep a track of all.
One promise he has, though, fulfilled — that about appointing a new commission of inquiry. He had announced the name of Justice S L Kochar as the chairman of the new commission long before Kochar had retired from the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The Kochar Commission has been functioning for several months now — if it can be called functioning. Neither the survivors have taken this commission seriously nor the commission has shown any seriousness, at least so far, in completing the task entrusted to it. It would appear that all Chauhan wanted was to oblige some people for past favours. The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sayahog Samiti (BGPSSS), the two organisations working for the survivors, have expressed their disappointment with the way the commission is functioning. They feel that the Commission can be expected to produce some result if it starts from the stage where the former Commission headed by Justice N K Singh was forced to wind up and all the submissions that were made before the N K Singh Commission are taken on record.
They wanted completion of the house-to-house survey of the gas affected population. Such a survey, they have pointed out, was undertaken immediately after the disaster by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) but it was abruptly wound up and the proformas completed by the 500-odd volunteers were confiscated by the government. Under the circumstances, it would be extremely helpful if the State Government, even at this late stage, allowed TISS access to the said proformas so that the same could be processed and analyzed fruitfully in the interest of the gas-victims.
They have reminded the chief minister that the State Government has till date not complied with the Supreme Court’s direction of 12.08.1985 (in Writ Petition No.11708 of 1985) to issue health booklets to all gas-victims. Even twenty-seven years after the disaster, less than ten per cent of the gas-victims have been issued health booklets. Directions to the State Government to provide health booklets to all gas-victims were repeatedly issued by the Monitoring Committee, which the State Government very conveniently continues to ignore.