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Since 1st March, 1999
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Survivors bitter over gas tragedy damages

Bhopal, Oct. 3: Bhopal is upbeat. Rs 1,503 crore will be pumped into the city, beginning later this month, and everyone is gleefully awaiting their share.

Except those the money is meant for. Bhopal has 105,000 survivors of the worldís worst industrial disaster who will now receive compensation between Rs 25,000 and Rs 55,000 according to a recent Supreme Court directive.

Ghazala, a bubbly girl with an Angelina Jolie pout and shades, is not happy. She is friendless and full of questions.

Can Rs 55,000 bring back her vision that she lost on December 3, 1984, when more than 40 tonnes of poisonous gases leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide factory instantly killing 8,000 people? Can it pay off the huge debt her family has incurred on the seven futile operations on her eyes? Can it improve her chances of getting married?

The questions mock the positive undercurrent sweeping Bhopal. Banks have flooded the city with banners and hoardings inviting survivors to open accounts in their branches. Lawyers and touts are looking forward to thousands of ìcasesî as each compensation claim requires a fair amount of paperwork. A motorbike dealer has placed an order for 25,000 bikes to cash in on the ìbonanzaî.

The local shopkeeper and moneylender have paid Ghulab Bai visits, gently reminding her about her debts. She is suffering from cancer, which the doctors attribute to the poisonous gases that choked Bhopal one night 20 years ago. She has begged and borrowed to pay for her medical expenses running over Rs 95,000. Now, who will she pay with the compensation that would at most make up half her debts?

Rights activist Abdul Jabbarís voice chokes as he speaks of the stateís indifference. Chief minister Babulal Gaur is himself a ìvictimî of the tragedy, but his government has little time for survivors.

The state relief commissioner informed the Supreme Court on September 30 through the Centre that it is yet to process 11,000 compensation claims. ìTwenty years have passed and look at the government saying it is yet to apply mind on 11,000 claims!î Jabbar fumed.

Jabbar, who runs a womenís self-help group, said the apex courtís order makes it clear that if Rs 1,503 crore falls short, the Centre is liable to pay each and every survivor.

He advises the government to draw a lesson from how the US administration handled the 9/11 tragedy, paying compensation to each and every victim within three years. It also struck back ó with attacks on Afghanistan ó and converted Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers stood ó into a memorial.

ìLook at our governmentís conduct. Warren Andersonís (the Union Carbide chief) extradition is nowhere in sight. Union Carbideís new entity, Dow Chemicals, is refusing to pay for the treatment of the survivors and clean up the 800-tonne stockpile of dangerous poisons and the contaminated underground water left behind at the site of the accident,î he said.

According to Jabbar, environment watchdog Greenpeace is one of the few forums still battling for the Bhopal gas tragedy survivors.

Recently at a Paris fashion show, where Dow presented a new textile, Greenpeace activists greeted visitors wearing black T-shirts with pictures of the victims of Bhopal and banners that read: ìWe reveal the hidden collection of Dow.î

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