Bhopal victims demonstrate in Delhi ahead of Supreme Court hearing on more compensation

Delhi police and CRPF dispersed the group of women survivors and forced them to leave

By Zumbish,
Published: Monday 10 October 2022
Demonstrators in front of Nirman Bhawan are seen in the picture. Photo: Zumbish
Demonstrators in front of Nirman Bhawan are seen in the picture. Photo: Zumbish Demonstrators in front of Nirman Bhawan are seen in the picture. Photo: Zumbish

Some 50 women survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy carried out a demonstration in front of Nirman Bhavan in New Delhi, a day ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on a curative petition seeking enhancement of compensation to the victims. 

“The India government may withdraw from the petition,” the survivors expressed their apprehensions.

A Constitution Bench of the court had given Solicitor General Tushar Mehta time till October 11 to get instructions from the Centre on whether it wants to “press” its curative petition seeking enhancement of compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, over and above the $470 million already paid by Union Carbide.

DTE visited Nirman Bhawan and spoke to the gas tragedy survivors and the leaders representing their cause.

“We had filed a petition in 2010 that the survivors and families of the Bhopal gas tragedy should get appropriate compensation,” said Nasreen, a survivor who had lost three family members in the aftermath of the tragedy that unfolded on December 2-3,1984.

The last time each family who has lost family members and whose generations have suffered severe health hazards due to the gas leakage received compensation was about 12 years ago, she added.

It was as less as Rs 25,000 per family and the petition was to seek additional compensation. In 2011, the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, promised Rs 5 lakh compensation for each victim’s family, she said.

But the promises were forgotten. Today, after 12 years, the petition will be heard in court. We are demanding Rs 6 lakh compensation for each family, she added.

“We are here at Nirman Vihar to appeal to the concerned ministry to take a step in our favour, as we are apprehensive about what will take place tomorrow,” she said.

A compensation is the least we can get after the hell that unleashed on us ever since the day of tragedy. We hope the Centre takes a step in our favour, said Nasreen.

The chemical leak in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, was the worst industrial accident in history.

About 45 tonnes of the dangerous gas methyl isocyanate escaped from an insecticide plant owned by the Indian subsidiary of the American firm Union Carbide Corporation,according to Britannica.

The gas drifted over the densely populated neighbourhoods around the plant, killing thousands of people immediately and creating a panic as tens of thousands of others attempted to flee Bhopal.

The final death toll was estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000. Some half a million survivors suffered respiratory problems, eye irritation or blindness and other maladies resulting from exposure to the toxic gas.

Twelve years ago, the whole of India was in uproar at the injustice caused to Bhopal survivors by the Government of India, Union Carbide and Dow Chemical,” said Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, an organisation working for the cause of victims.

“The government recognised that compensation granted to Bhopal survivors was grossly inadequate, so filed a petition in the Supreme Court to ‘cure’ it, but in all the years since, no government has lifted one finger to support this petition,” she said.

An hour after the demonstration started, Delhi police and CRPF dispersed the group of women survivors and forced them to leave.

Setting a beautiful example of communal harmony in present-day India, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, located in central Delhi, has been setting an example by providing shelter to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy — of whom almost everyone is a Muslim.

Salma Khan, who had lost her brother and parents in the disaster, was shivering when she recounted the disaster.

She and her five sisters were the only family members left alive in the family. She says the compensation will help bring the family on track. “Life has been no less than a nightmare since the day of tragedy,” she said.

She prays it never becomes anyone else’s reality like it was for her family.

“I suffer from anxiety till date, the tragedy had unfolded right in front of my eyes 38 years ago,” said an old lady who survived the tragedy.

Leaders from the organisations representing the cause of the gas tragedy survivors met officials of the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers at Nirman Bhawan after the demonstration.

“UPA government had filed the present curative petition after it realised that Union Carbide and its current owner, Dow Chemical, had not adequately compensated the Bhopal disaster,” said Rachna Dhingra, a leader of the demonstration.

The 1989 civil settlement instead constituted a “gross and irremediable injustice” perpetrated upon the survivors, she added.

“We do not forget that among the most prominent voices clamouring twelve years ago for the UPA government to remedy this injustice before the Supreme court, were authorised spokespersons for the Bharatiya Janta Party,” she added.

The present government’s failure to pursue the curative petition is most likely to be perceived as a betrayal of the commitments made through the Bhopal Act and the responsibilities bestowed by the constitution, she added.

We urge the government to act and act immediately, she said.

“We urge you to ensure that the government of India discharges its statutory and constitutional duty towards the victims of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal by continuing to prosecute the curative petition to the best of its ability and resources,” stated Bhopal survivors’ organisations, who are co-petitioners in the curative petition, in their letter to the ministry.

Dhingra called for understanding the gravity and urgency of the situation, affecting thousands of India’s most vulnerable citizens.

The leaders could not meet the minister of chemical and fertilisers, Manshukh L Mandaviya. However, the ministry officials assured them that the government of India would continue to pursue the curative petition for additional compensation for the gas tragedy victims’ families.

Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha and Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogi Sangarsh Morcha were among the organisations present.

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