N JAYARAMAN, Chennai-Based Journalist*
Yes, claims must be re-examined
REPORTS about enhanced compensation for Bhopal survivors is malarkey. One cynical gas victim said: “I smelled a rat the minute I heard the GoM was going to dole out compensation. I knew it couldn’t be right. Why would it be? Mr Chidambaram was a finance minister. He is a companywala. I knew there would be number juggling.” Syed M Irfan should know. As a Carbide victim, he has heard the promises and lies of nine PMs.
Media hopefully cited a figure of Rs 1,500 crore as enhanced compensation. Reliable sources place the figure at Rs 700 crore. If it were divided equally among all eligible victims, the larger amount would divvy up to Rs 26,000 per victim. At Rs 700 crore, each victim will get about Rs 12,237. Go celebrate, you lucky Bhopalis, you!
Whatever the amount, the GoM intends to divide the pie only among about 45,000 people or 8% of the 572,000 people whose claims were settled. This curious situation arose because of the bad categorisation. A majority of victims were categorised as ‘not injured’ or ‘temporarily injured.’ Many have sunk into ill-health, and others have succumbed to various diseases. These 525,000 or more people will get nothing from Mr Chidambaram’s smokescreen largesse.
As regards re-categorisation, the people are as hesitant as the government. Most of them no longer have papers to support their claims, and the bureaucratic run-around would be impossible for many. Better would be to offer a blanket compensation of at least Rs 60,000 crore covering roughly 600,000 victims at Rs 10 lakh each. The many wrongfully rejected death claims will have to be re-examined, and the death claims registration, stopped in 1997, renewed. Don’t balk at Rs 60,000 crore. Look at it in context. In 2008-09 — Mr Chidambaram was FM — Rs 66,901 crore was just one year’s corporate income tax foregone by the government. If we can subsidise fat cat corporates year after year, we can surely find the heart to extend one-time help to our kith in Bhopal.
(*Also a long-time volunteer with the Bhopal campaign)
N D JAYAPRAKASH
Valid grounds to doubt current data
AFTER a preliminary study immediately after the disaster, the ICMR had declared 36 of the 56 municipal wards of Bhopal, i.e, nearly 600,000 of the city’s then population of 900,000, as gas-affected. A detailed house-to-house survey of the gas-exposed areas was attempted thereafter. That attempt was made at the beginning of January 1985, when, under the guidance of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), nearly 500 volunteers from several schools of social work across the country began collecting detailed data about gas victims. However, the state government abruptly wound up that exercise at the end of February 1985, when the volunteers had completed about 25,000 households, i.e., less than one-fourth of the target. Neither TISS nor any other agency got another opportunity to complete the survey. What was equally deplorable was that even TISS did not have access to the data that it had helped compile.
Subsequently, victims were asked to file individual claims under the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration & Processing of Claims) Scheme, 1985. By 1997, over 10,00,000 claims were filed, including by residents of unexposed wards and those who had come into the city after the disaster. Through the process of adjudication, which lasted from 1992 to 2006, the 36 claim courts that were constituted for the purpose awarded compensation in 574,367 death and injury cases.
While the scale of the disaster in terms of numbers has been, more or less, fairly assessed, there are valid grounds for seriously doubting the data regarding declared gas-related deaths and gravity of injuries of victims and their progenies. These doubts can be cast aside only by reviving medical research, medical surveys and re-examination of medical records. Sadly, medical histories of most of the victims have not been properly maintained. Hence, fresh surveys are a must for filling this gap. The crude morbidity data generated by the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies, Bhopal, through six-monthly epidemiological surveys from 1985 onwards in the gas-exposed areas would become invaluable as supplementary data.
(*Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti)