17 years on, Bhopal victims await justice
Mid-day, March 3, 2001

Last year, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh announced that Bhopal's residents were no longer suffering from the after-effects of 1984's deadly gas leak, and therefore the department established to deal with the relief and rehabilitation of the leak's victims had outlived its utility.

Three hundred women who survived the tragedy that has claimed over 20,000 lives over the years have come to the city to hold a rally and demand that Dow Chemicals accept criminal liabilities of Union Carbide Corporation. They have submitted a memorandum to the corporation and asked that it pay for the longterm medical care of the victims.

To the statement of the chief minister, Rasheeda Bi, a survivor says, "This is alarming. Today, 1.2 lakh victims need immediate medical attention because of the tragedy."

It has been 17 years and three months since the colossal tragedy, but memories of that black day still haunt Rasheeda. But more than the memory, it is the government's sheer callousness in the aftermath of the tragedy that has brought her to a state of utter penury and despair.

Rasheeda is one of thousands of survivors of the Union Carbide gas leak. S Sarangi, of the Bhopal Group of Information and Action, says, "The death toll continues to rise every month. At least 10 people die every month due to respiratory and cancer-related ailments."

Rasheeda, who lives 50 metres from the Union Carbide plant, lost her father and brother within six months of the tragedy. "We still have to receive rehabilitation from the government," she says.

Sarangi says, "No good medical facilities are available in Bhopal, though the number of cancer patients have increased exponentially."

In February 14, 1989, a settlement was reached with Union Carbide, which deposited Rs 715 crore with the registrar. From that amount, compensation was distributed in a phased manner to the victims.

But Rasheeda says, "The victims got a meagre Rs 200 per month. As years went by, each family staying near the Carbide plant saw or one or two of its members die from some protracted illness. My neighbour delivered three babies after the tragedy; all were born deaf and dumb."

Today, around 10,000 widows in Bhopal fend for themselves. Sarangi says, "Many husbands ditched their wives, because they did not have enough money to treat them."

The soil and groundwater in and around Bhopal has been contaminated and cannot be used for drinking or agricultural purposes.

Rasheeda says, "Union Carbide should make adequate payments for long-term medical care, because many of the pople are suffering from terminal diseases."