The sordid political truths behind the Rs 1,544.84 crore payout to gas tragedy victims

February 22, 2006 4:43:45 PM IST
Compensation of Rs 1,544.84 crore has been doled out thus far to about 5,73,816 lakh victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of December 1984, the Madhya Pradesh assembly was informed today.
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This is all it amounts to per victim per day – and dwindling.
In a written response to Mr Umashankar Gupta, Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Babulal Gaur said the total number of claimants from the state capital’s 56 wards and outside stood at 10,29,516.
Let’s put this figure in perspective.
A crore is 10 million, so the sum claimed to have been disbursed is equal to £199.72 million, US$347.58 million or €292.43 million.
Divided between 5,73,816 registered victims of Carbide’s gases, this provides an average to each victim of £348.05, US$605.73 or €509.62.
This compensation was supposed to last a lifetime and provide medical care. But spread out over the 7,751 days (21+ years) they have already been suffering, many having lost their livelihoods and homes due to ill health, this dole that ministers are boasting about comes to a meagre 4.4 UK pence, 7.8 US cents or 6.5 European centimes per day.
In Indian terms the sum is 3 rupees 40 paise.
A quick call to the city’s swanky Jehan Numa Hotel (00 91 755 2661100) establishes that a pot of tea (two cups) there costs 69 rupees. Even in the less salubrious surroundings of Pir Gate’s RTI roadside chai shop, you are unlikely to get much change out of 3 rupees.
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A cup of tea a day, and that’s your lot.
“Compensation” on this level can hardly begin to pay for medicines, clothes, shelter or to make up for years of lost income. Many families are horribly and inextricably in debt to moneylenders to whom they have had to turn in desperation.
The twenty thousand people poisoned by Carbide’s chemicals leaking into their wells are not classified as gas victims and have got nothing at all.
To his compensation statement to the state assembly, Babu Lal Gaur added the following: “On August 25, 2005, the state government interacted with the Centre about declaring all city wards as Gas Tragedy-affected.”
Declaring middle class neighbourhoods that were never touched by the gas to be “gas-affected” is not merely voter bribery on a grand scale, so corrupt are the state’s politicians that they do not even bother to pretend otherwise.
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Gaur accepts rakhees from women and promises to help
Babu Lal Gaur, incidentally, is the minister whose cabinet for nearly two years ignored an Indian Supreme Court order to provide clean drinking water to the communities whose wells are poisoned. He has repeatedly broken promises to help those communities, three quarters of whom, some 15,000 people are still forced to drink, cook and bathe in dilute poisons.
Last May, when women from those bastis took their children and went to government offices to protest, they were kicked and beaten by police.
The same Babu Lal Gaur, when he was Chief Minister, announced grandiose plans to spend US $180 million beautifying cities with public fountains, badminton courts and gymnasia, while, as The Statesman pointed out, almost half the state’s children were suffering from malnutrition.
Uma Shankar Gupta, the minister to whom Gaur’s boast of thousands of crores was directed, last year celebrated his birthday with elephants, camels, dancing horses and a 53 kilogram cake.
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Uma Shankar Gupta and his cake
Such are the politicians of Bhopal.

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