Union Carbide's poisons:
the economic and social impact


Government 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.

Government 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.

Local 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.

Special 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 September 2000.