Chidambaram visits Bhopal on June 5

Gas disaster victims say they would like to present actual injuries, death reports

The day before P Chidambaram, the chairperson of the group of ministers on Bhopal gas disaster, is set to visit the city on June 5, he was served with a memorandum by five survivors’ organisations, expressing disappointment because the home minister’s itinerary does not include meeting with the survivors.

The minister’s visit follows a series of Supreme Court orders, directing the Union government to facilitate and take swift action regarding the toxic waste still lying at the premises of the Union Carbide factory.

While the organisations laud the visit, intended to take stock of the waste and contamination issue, their release states that the minister has “failed to keep the promise, made in the Bhopal Act of 1985”, which provides for the government to act as the legal representative of the victims and protect their best interests.
Their fax to the home minister states that the survivors’ organisations “would like to present scientific reports, hospital records and official documents that show facts related to injuries and death caused by the December 1984 Union Carbide disaster are not being presented in the civil curative petition that is pending before the Supreme Court of India”. The decision to file a curative petition to enhance compensation to victims was taken by the group of ministers in June 2010.

Rashida Bi, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, says, “The Central government has accepted that Bhopal victims have not been compensated adequately by Union Carbide and has filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court for enhancement of compensation. But the figures of death and injuries caused by the Union Carbide disaster have been downplayed.” She explains that the curative petition says more than 90 per cent of the victims have suffered only temporary injuries. But this is belied by records of government hospitals that show that over half a million victims were receiving treatment for chronic illnesses even 18 years after the disaster (see 'The chemistry of living death'; 'Beyond Bhopal: incentive for unsafe industries'). 

“The Indian Council of Medical Research findings show that in the first nine years after the disaster more than 12,000 people died as a consequence of toxic exposure. Research by the Madhya Pradesh government’s Centre for Rehabilitation Studies shows that one gas victim was dying untimely death every day as late as in 2001. Yet the Central government has presented a ridiculously low figure of 5,295 as the death toll of the disaster,” says Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

The Madhya Pradesh government has agreed to make corrections in the figures of deaths and injuries caused by Union Carbide in its petition before the Supreme Court.“The Chief Minister has twice written to the prime minister urging him to ensure that figures of damage wrought by Union Carbide in the curative petition are corrected. It is mainly due to the intransigence of P Chidambaram that the Central government has not bothered to consider the gross errors in the figures of deaths and injuries in the curative petition,” says Balkrishna Namdeo of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha.

Reiterating the organisations demands faxed this morning, Nawab Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha says, “The Supreme Court is yet to hear the curative petition for enhancement of compensation and we still have a few months for the figures of death and injury to be corrected. This can only happen if the Central government, including the group headed by Chidambaram, agrees to make corrections in the curative petition in accordance with findings of council of medical research, hospital records and official documents.”

Safreen Khan of the Children Against Dow Carbide says she has started collecting erasers from school children which will be presented to Chidambaram during his visit tomorrow. “The erasers from the children will remind him that he has some important corrections to make regarding Bhopal gas victims.”


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