Blessed are the dead, living are no one's concern
The Hindustan Times, 3rd December 2000

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984 was the worst chemical disaster of the last century which left thousands dead, lakhs maimed quite a few thousand permanently injured and disabled for life.

Blessed are the dead: The living are the worst sufferers. They have become soft targets of politics, corruption and mis-management which characterised the aftermath of the tragedy.

To better contest their claims, the gas victims had authorised the Government of India to represent them in national and international courts, hoping they would get justice, adequate monetary compensation, proper medical treatment jobs and self-employment opportunities.

But their hopes have been belied; nay, they have been duped and received niggardly compensation, have been meted out the most beggarly treatment at the so-called MIC gas hospitals and clinics. Even the permanently injured and the disabled have not been spared. The Gas-court judges treated the survivors with contumely and dismissed many of their claims without appreciating the problems gas victims encountered. The alleged among the various gas authorities benefitted dubious claimants and played havoc with the rights of genuine sufferers. Thus compensation was awarded not as rightful due but a dole with all the attendant humiliations and indignities.

All this happened just because the Gas Tragdey struck the walled city and its vicinity which is largely inhabited by the mower middle class, the semi-educated and the illiterate populace. The VIPs, bureaucrats and other social elites were not at all affected by the Gas Tragedy for they lived in New Bhopal and did not even know till the morning of 3rd December that in the preceding night thousands had perished in the old city and wondered why the school buses did not ply to pick up their children. No surprise, there is little sympathy and appreciation for the sufferings of the gas victims and their health damages. It is travesty of social justice, that the monetary claims of such people are being supported for political gains, both by the ruling party and the opposition, in full knowledge, that it would deprive the genuine sufferers of their financial support and means of survival. The social organisations which had appeared on the scene as "saviours" have turned political, mercenary, and have been cheaply sold out. Some of them who possess precious information on the MIC gas, prefer to keep silent, waiting for the proverbial goose to lay the golden egg.

Thanks to the frequent interventions of the Supreme Court at the instance of the social activists, the government has been compelled to make the gas hospitals functional, even though medical equipment worth several lakhs has already turned into junk due to disuse and disrepair.

Though medicine and other treatment of the victims is now free, the inordinate delay in their treatment has worsened their health status and they stand threatened with an ominous future. Even after 15 years of the gas tragedy the victims are running from pillar to post and the physicians are busy fleecing them at will, for even the gas hospital doctors do not fully know the effects and the after-effects of the MIC gas, and the treatment offered is just symptomatic. The ICMR, which conducted a number of studies and researched on the effects and after-effects of the MIC gas, did not divulge the findings under instructions that anyone speaking out of turn would be sacked. The International Medical Council for Bhopal, which conclusively stated that eyes and lungs were adversely affected, was sidetracked for its forthright reporting on the effects of MIC gas.

Regrettably, in 1992 the state government, also dissolved the committee monitoring the exposure related deaths and their registrations, even though nearly 10 persons continue to die each month from gas related illnesses.

The release of compensation and rehabilitation money triggered off an all-absorbing, hold-all construction activity, which relegated health needs of the survivors into the background. The rehabilitation money was most recklessly spent on routine municipal activities - resurfacing of roads, construction of drains and public toilets, plantation of trees, purchasing of mechanised garbage trucks, etc.

Ironically all these efforts did not materially touch  the most severely affected shanty populace. Besides a variety of massive concrete structures, at the cost of crores of rupees, were erected. When we consider the sense of urgency with which these structures came up, and contrast it with the procrastination in procuring medicines and in making the sophisticated medical equipment operational, the first reaction is to revolt.

The economic rehabilitation of gas victims has been farcical. In the name of rehabilitation the government offered women survivors with sewing machine centers and jute article-making workshops, which were closed down in 1992, for reasons: First, that the training failed to provide employment to gas victims, and the second, that government feared that women activists were organising themselves (see Jabbar's Bridge).

For men, there were no such schemes though they were the recognised bread earners. The ITI in Govindpura, constructed at a cost of Rs 7 crore is the only institution which has some good track record of training young men and women who are getting employment with the railways and other organisations. But the massive building also houses (rent free) the Bhoj University and other establishments. When educated gas victims contacted the Industries Department, to whom the Gas Department had transferred all the work sheds (cost & crores), they were asked to pay Rs two lakh and compete with the private individuals. Finally, the sheds it is alleged  were sold off to private parties at one-tenth the cost! Further, as an avowed written policy of the state government it has promised employment and other opportunities of self-employment to gas victims, but the Gas-secretary declined to act in the absence of a clear cabinet decision. This should explode all the tall claims of the government that rehabilitation matters to it.

In the interest of the gas victims a serious introspection is absolutely necessary.