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Central Chronical, Bhopal
Thursday April 20, 2000

Gas-hit women poised to tap export market

 BHOPAL: The Bhopal gas disaster has been sold in different forms in the West for personal profit time and again. Now, a batch of determined survivors is trying to sell its wares in the lucrative overseas markets to efface poverty from their lives. They have been offered a helping hand by some voluntary organisations from Mumbai.

The efforts by a self-help group `Swabhimaan' to tap export opportunities are probably the first ever aimed at survivors' economic rehabilitation sans Government aid, marking the beginning of a new chapter. Some Delhi and Mumbai-based garment export houses have warmed up to the idea and promised to off-load bulk stitching orders to the group.

Economic rehabilitation of the 1984 tragedy victims is regarded the biggest failure story of Government efforts. About Rs. 70 crore have been spent since 1985 in different activities. However, lack of focus has put paid to them all.

The last scheme to provide jobs to survivors, run by the MP State Handicraft Corporation in tandem with NGOs floated by ruling party cronies, came to a halt in March last year when Rs. one crore special Central assistance was spent to the last penny. The cash-strapped State Government, was in no mood to allocate fresh funds. The corporation sent a new proposal for Rs. two crore Central assistance to continue the scheme. Nothing has been heard of the proposal ever since.

That's when the survivors, who till then were content with shouting slogans under the banner of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, decided to take the matter in their own hands. Swabhimaan Mahila Training Centre, a Sangathan off-shoot, decided to enlarge its role from being a mere pressure group. A leading social worker of Mumbai, Fatima Merchant and some other celebrated individuals took interest and helped the survivors land some deals from garment export houses.

The State Government was only too glad to allot a closed stitching centre to the group. Now, plans are afoot to impart training to the survivors to meet international stitching standards.

Plans for economic rehabilitation of survivors have been carried out in fits and start since 1985, alleges Abdul Jabbar, convenor of the Sangathan. Their success has been scuppered by cronyism, petty politicking and utter lack of comprehensive strategy.

The training in different trades imparted to men between 1985 and 1987 was not followed up with long-term employment avenues. On the other hand, stitching centres run for women have been opened and closed a number of times.

in July 1987, the State Government awarded special status to economic rehabilitation of survivors. Acting as a nodal agency, the Small Industries Corporation (MPSIC), ran the stitching centres quite efficiently, posting profits in excess of Rs. 10 lakh per annum for some years in succession.

 Work on industrial sheds in Govindpura industrial area began in 1987 as a part of special employment scheme for the survivors. It was completed at a cost of Rs. eight crore in 1990.

Food processing, garment manufacturing, diamond cutting and electronics assembly units were planned in the special employment scheme, with an aim to give permanent jobs to 10,000 victims in 1990 in the first phase and an equal number in 1993 under the second phase.

A special industrial training centre (ITI) also came up at a cost of another Rs. eight crore to train survivors for planned industries in the special industrial estate.

However, the erstwhile BJP Government spiked the ambitious plan. It refused to grant subsidies and sops to lure industrialists to the estate, demanding instead that Centre provide funds for it.

 In a controversial decision, the Government in 1992 announced to close down stitching centres for women citing losses and payment of interim relief to the victims. The decision was disputed by the survivors, to little avail.

With the special employment scheme already put on a back-burner, the industrial sheds in Govindpura were allotted to Rapid Action Force (RAF) after the 1992 riots in the State capital. The RAF continues to occupy the sheds.


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