documentation? Forget it
There has been hardly any systematic effort to document the social and economic impacts of
the disaster. Official information on orphaned children and families that lost their
breadwinners in the immediate aftermath and later is scarce, if available at all. Over 70%
of the exposed population were working in the unorganised sector, with people earning
subsistence wages through day labour or petty trade. A large number of men and women who
pushed handcarts, carried loads, dug soil, repaired cars and bikes and so on, can no
longer pursue their trades after inhaling Carbide's gases.
Gas exposed factory workers in
textile and paper mills are more sensitive to occupational hazards and are absent from
work due to illness, sometimes up to 15 days a month. Given the complete inadequacy of
official rehabilitation efforts, the loss of regular income has driven tens of thousands
of families to chronic starvation conditions. Loss of income means that people have
borrowed money from local money lenders who charge up to 200% interest. Chances of paying
them back are negligible and so the downward economic spiral continues.
rehabilitation? Forget it
The Madhya Pradesh government has spent about Rs.70 crores on providing economic
rehabilitation to survivors with pitiably little to show for it. Today there are at least
50,000 men and women who are so sick and weak from exposure-related diseases that they can
no longer earn a livelihood from hard physical labour. Yet government programs have
offered jobs to only 80 women. Even these jobs at the Stationery Production Centre remain
to be regularised after 12 years. For several months in 2000, women were not paid
salaries. On October 5, 2000, a worker in this Centre lost his thumb to one of the
paper-cutting machines. The worker had previously sent several written complaints about
the malfunctioning machine without any action by the higher officials.
Of the 152 worksheds built in
1990 at the Special Industrial Unit, 16 are only partially functional and 52 have been
converted into barracks for the paramilitary Rapid Action Force. Only 461 persons have
received any training in the last 13 years.
NGOs doing their bit? Forget it
13 local NGOs, most of whom are connected to the ruling party were entrusted with running
training-cum-production centres by the government in 1994. By 1998, except two, none of
these NGOs were running any kind of employment generation program. In 1998, production of
jute handicrafts was begun with an investment of Rs.1 crore that offered employment to 400
women for 13 months. However, on March 16, 1999 this program was terminated on the grounds
that there was no market for the goods produced.
The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan
(BGPMUS) has recently set up a training-cum-production centre to be run by the Swabhiman
Mahila Prashikshan Sanstha. At the moment the centre employs 100 women who prepare jute
bags and do stitching work.
attention to widows and orphans? Forget it
It should be a matter of national shame that the victims who have lost their parents,
husbands or other family members have had no social support. No official agency is
concerned with victims with severe exposure-related disabilities who are unable to support
themselves and their families. Through legal intervention by the BGPMUS in the Supreme
Court of India, such persons received a monthly pension but it was discontinued after
payment of compensation. The amounts such persons have received as compensation have been
paltry and mostly spent in repaying debts. Yet the Madhya Pradesh government does not even
have a record of persons rendered destitute as a result of the disaster
The failure of the
Madhya Pradesh government
The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) for the year 1999
has severely crticised the Madhya Pradesh Government for its "failure'' to
effectively implement the action plan for medical relief and rehabilitation of the victims
of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster.
In the matter of economic
rehabilitation of the gas victims, the CAG has pointed out that only 4,080 persons were
trained in less than 25 trades against the target of giving vocational training to 3,600
persons each year in 40 different trades between 1990 and 1999. The "Special
Industrial Area" under which 152 industrial worksheds were constructed to provide
jobs to 10,000 workers at a cost of Rs.8.19 crores has also been described as a disaster
since only 2,443 workers could benefit under this project.
Good news from
Bhopal: the struggle continues
Public meetings attended by hundreds of survivor activists have been held every week in
the past several years, by two organisations, namely Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog
Sangathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangarsh Morcha
(BGPNPBSM). Demonstrations by these and the third survivors' organisation - Gas Peedit
Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal (GPMSKSB) have continued both locally as well
as in New Delhi and Bombay.
At the demonstrations in Delhi and Bombay held on
the occasion of President Clinton's visit to India, survivors condemned his brokering of
deals between the Indian government and US corporations. In addition to the issues
directly related to the disaster such as the US court's dismissal of the class action suit
or amendment of the compensation distribution scheme, survivors' organisations mobilised
on issues of price rise, inadequacies of the public distribution system, social security
and other matters.
The protest of the Bhopal survivors was
represented both at the anti-World Bank/IMF demonstrations in Washington DC and Prague.
Members of the Bhopal Information Network, Japan paid a solidarity visit to Bhopal in