PART II OF AN IMPORTANT TEHELKA.COM INVESTIGATION
Victims continue to be poisoned two decades after the tragedy as the government has failed to detect the polluted sources of air and water, reports Betwa Sharma
BHOPAL, MARCH 2006
A solution to fast deliverance of justice lies in assessing the role of the judges in the distribution of compensation. Currently, the role being played by judges in the make-shift courts is to see whether the victim has the right papers and to check whether he/she qualifies. Imagine the plight of a victim who is barely able to stand in front of the judge, or enters with several tubes attached to his body, or has a disfigured eye. Isn’t it more than obvious that they cannot be compensated under the settlement ceiling of Rs 25,000? The money should have been distributed on the basis of injury-assessment, which would have rectified the lacunae of the first compensation. It may have taken more time and money, but after 20 years, it would have been worth it.
The manner in which the compensation is distributed is appalling. A victim is called to the court on a particular date with their papers; no time is given for hearing. She has to wait for her turn the whole day as the bailiff may anytime yell ‘haazir ho’ (be present). This second round of money will not be of great help to the victim. Two cases, filed recently, are pending before the Supreme Court. The first case is about placing the government as liable to makeup for the shortfall arising between the reported number of injuries and deaths, which have doubled, and the actual number reported. Hence a specific sum of money was distributed among a larger number of people which resulted in large scale dismissal of genuine claims, most people receiving a minimal sum. The number of categories under which people could receive compensation were also decreased from 12 to six. This shortfall also needs to be redressed.
Another suit was filed for those who did not claim earlier. They mistook the interim compensation as being final and did not claim for the 2nd compensation. They too must receive their due along with the people suffering from fresh ailments caused by the polluted ground water and air still seeped in toxic chemicals. Various new reports have now proved that the water around certain wards is heavily polluted with toxins and metals. Certain wells had to be abandoned. There is an acute water shortage and the municipality is not able to cope with it. The state government is trying to beat the crisis by sending in water tankers to the slums around the factory site, but they are not sufficient to meet the demands, leading to occasional violence.
More disturbing is the fact that all related polluted sources of air and water have not been detected and many are still unaware of the toxins present in the drinking water and the air they breathe. So far, Dow Chemicals, which has taken over Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), refuses to clean up the area on the assertion that ucc discharged all its liabilities in the 1989 settlement with the Union Of India. As the words ‘liability’ and ‘responsibility’ become the subject of intricate and oppressive interpretation, the residents of Bhopal continue to be poisoned.
To be continued…