SC verdict a reprieve for Bhopal gas victims
MID-DAY, Sunday, March 4 2001

By N D Sharma

Bhopal, March 3 The survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, who were hit hard by the notification issued by the Welfare Commissioner (Bhopal Gas Victims) last year, have got a reprieve from Friday’s Supreme Court verdict directing the Welfare Commissioner to give two months’ time to the survivors to present their case.

The February 5,2000 notification had enjoined upon the Claims Courts the right to reject the claim for compensation if the case had already been dismissed or rejected in the absence of the claimant. The notification was described by the victims’ organisations as arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India as it effectively denied the claimant any right to pursue his or her claim.

The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, the organisation working among the victims, had pleaded before the Supreme Court through a writ petition that many of the victims had not even received notice or intimation till then and had no means of knowing the exact status of their claim applications. If the victims had changed their residential address and intimated it to the office of the Commissioner, there was no acknowledgement. Very often the victims came to the court of the Deputy Commissioner (the judicial officer hearing the compensation case) and waited for days on end without knowing whether their claims would be taken up or not.

A division bench of the apex court comprising Justices B N Kirpal, Duraiswamy Raju and Rupa Paul has now directed the Welfare Commissioner (Bhopal Gas Victims) to publicise in the local newspapers the names of the claimants whose applications have been rejected on technical grounds and give them two months time to pursue their claims, beginning from the date of the publication of the names.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan convener Abdul Jabbar estimates the number of such claimants to be between 80,000 and one lakh.

Besides, there are 50,000 to 60,000 victims whose files have ‘disappeared’ from the courts. Some 20,000 belong to yet another category: impostors have fraudulently taken the compensation amounts on behalf of these people. Jabbar says all of them will have the opportunity to present their cases afresh in the Claims Courts in terms of the Supreme Court directive.