Waiting for relief

 
Published: Monday 31 August 1992

-- All THAT the government is earning from the Bhopal disaster is interest: Rs 20 crore daily from the Rs 715 crore deposited by the Union Carbide as compensation money. Nearly eight years after the accident not one person has been paid compensation for damages suffered in this major industrial mishap.

Last month, the government's apathy came under attack in Parliament and, under pressure, it introduced an amendment to the Bhopal gas leak disaster bill that would give additional powers to the commissioner of relief to speed up processing claims. Government officials are confident they will process in two months 6,39,793 claims -- something that has been lying for many years.

According to the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, only 3,58,712 (56 per cent) claimants have been officially examined medically. The examination showed only 45 people were classified as extreme cases, making them eligible to get between Rs 2-4 lakh each. A mere 2,687 individuals were found to have partial but permanent disability, qualifying them for compensation between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh each. The remainder of those found eligible for compensation will get only Rs 25,000 each.

Interim relief payments, which began in March 1990, are an indicator of the problems involving disbursement. The government ordered people living in 36 wards near the Union Carbide plant should be paid Rs 200 a month for three years and put Rs 310 crore at the disposal of the MP government. Last month, the Supreme Court indicted the state government for denying interim compensation to as many as one lakh indigent persons living in the affected wards and commented that state officials had clearly favoured the rich. Now, both Union and state governments have a problem: Who will recover interim relief payments if they are made to those whose claims are subsequently rejected by the courts?

Meanwhile, criminal proceedings against Union Carbide continue. Minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers Chinta Mohan has said the Central Bureau of Investigation is considering arresting chairperson Warren Anderson, but given the government's record in dealing with the Bhopal gas tragedy, the intention is clearly a sham.

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