Day 5: 30-07-2010
Most of us spent the last night waiting for the wind to blow from somewhere. When that didn’t happen most of us spent the night counting stars and braving mosquitoes. Due to some miscommunication the caretaker at the St’ Columbus school had switched off electricity and so we had to sleep outside in open. Nonetheless, St’ Columbus has been a generous host so far and we decided that perhaps talking to school authorities would ensure that nothing of this sort is repeated. We marched for Jantar Mantar early morning to avoid any clash with the school schedule. Also, today was a big day. Rajya Sabha Member, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, who was also the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers and a member of Group of Minister on Bhopal till recently, was to visit us in the afternoon.
We laid down the mattresses wrapped in clean white sheets, borrowed from Delhi Forum- a delhi based organization, and sat waiting for Mr. Paswan. The police was on high alert and stood close to the dharna sthal. Soon the place was taken over by media cameras and tripods. Mr. Paswan came in promptly at 3pm and sat with us. He wasted no time and minced no words in expressing his unconditional support to our demands.
We presented the case of Sana, an 8-year old girl from Annu Nagar which is one of the many the contaminated water affected bastis. She has had to drink contaminated groundwater for the last four years and a year ago developed a tumour in her throat. This tumour has grown to block her wind-pipe and She now breathes through a tube that goes in to into her throat. Her family of four, including a seriously underdeveloped 2-year old brother, does not figure in the Government’s schemes for free medical care because contamination affected communities are not considered by the Government to be at par with the victims of the gas disaster. Sana’s parents brought her to Delhi as part of the rally since they could not even afford the train fare from Bhopal to Delhi. Bhopal-based Gandhi Medical College has referred them to AIIMS to get the tumour operated as local facilities do not exist. In response to an appeal for financial assistance that Sana’s parents made with the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, they were told to get an estimate of the cost of treatment from AIIMS. Mr. Paswan immediately arranged an appointment with the ENT Specialist at AIIMS for her. He agreed with our view that the Group of Ministers’ recommendations last month do not address the unfolding health and economic disasters among victims of Carbide’s toxic legacy in Bhopal. Health abnormalities, particularly among children, and birth defects are rampant among both gas-affected and contamination-affected communities.
In his address to the Press Mr. Paswan highlighted that the Government of India’s Rs. 700 crore enhanced compensation package covers only 7 percent of the total registered victims and that at least 530,000 will get nothing from this package. He stressed that without the Empowered Commission, presented to the earlier GOM by him in 2008; it would be difficult to address all aspects of rehabilitation. He also felt that the Government of India should intervene in the US Court Case and stand up for justice in Bhopal. In response to a journalist’s question whether he thinks that Mr. Manmohan Singh led government has the spine to intervene in the US court case, Mr. Paswan said he sincerely hopes that the government does that. He then left but not before arranging medical care for Sana.
Later in the evening, a visit from Neeraj of Manzil group lifted our spirits tremendously. Few women got up to dance on ‘hey sajni re’ while many joined in chorus. Most of us, including the police women who surrounded the dharna sthal, joined him in ‘daulat badi hai ya, kismet badhi hai ya, shohrat badi hai, ya mohabbat?’ meaning which is the greatest among these- wealth, destiny, fame or love?