NEGLECT OF THE SURVIVORS STILL CONTINUES
With tears in eyes, shouting slogans against central and state government and Union Carbide thousands of gas victims marched on the streets of Bhopal, formed human chain and attended public meetings organised by various NGOs on December 4 commemorating Bhopal Gas disaster on the same day in 1984.
The content of speeches was the same which we have been listening for last 35 years. Post tragedy period is marked by gross neglect by the government and other organisations. The worst neglect is in the field of health. Victims never got proper treatment. Abdul Jabbar, who fought for the rights of gas victims also died a premature death. Thirty five years after the tragedy over five lakh victims still depend on free health care primarily from Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC).
BMHRC is under the management of union government’s department of health research (DHR). If updates on hospital website are an indication of progress the last annual report available on the official webpage is of 2013-14. The report says “a bio-psychosocial healing model is the call of the day and hence the focus is on the establishment of rehabilitative programme to improve the quality of life of the patients”.
Despite annual budget of about Rs. 140 crore – 60 per cent of which goes for disbursement of salaries – the hospital is ailing. Services in critical clinical departments like oncology, neurology, nephrology, gastro medicine and gastro surgery have been affected for lack of specialists. BMHRC oncology department shut down in August 2017, after its sole onco-surgeon resigned.
A sub-committee formed in 2013 comprising of BMHRC, AIIMS, Bhopal MoHFW and DHR officials is expected to submit its report to the government soon. For the last several years, the departments of nephrology and surgical oncology are closed and there are no specialists in
neurology, pulmonary medicine, surgical gastroenterology and gastro medicine.
On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the disaster leaders of four survivors’ organisations condemned the continued apathy of the governments towards medical, economic and social rehabilitation of the survivors.
“The long and painful sickness and recent death of Abdu Jabbar, leader of a survivors’ organisation, exemplifies what almost every patient visiting the state and central run hospitals goes through” said Rashida Bee, president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmchari Sangh. Studies reveal that 72.3 per cent of gas victims have mental disorders. Most were women under the age of 45. More than 80 per cent gas victims suffered from depression and anxiety neurosis of some kind.
Another area of total failure is to clean the toxic waste of the ground where Carbide plant located. Over one lakh residents living in the vicinity of the Union Carbide plant are feeling the sting of environmental pollution caused by the disaster. According to a rough estimate the condition of ground water has gone from bad to worse, but the residents have no option but to suffer it in silence. Due to the gas disaster and mainly owing to Union Carbide’s unsafe and faulty method of disposal of poisonous waste within the factory compound since 1969 the situation has worsened.
Apart, there is failure to punish those whose acts of commission and omission caused worst industrial tragedy. The criminal cases against the accused in the gas disaster are supposedly proceeding at two levels: one against the three accused who are absconding and the other against the nine Indian accused including Union Carbide India Ltd. and its Indian officials who appeared before the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) Bhopal to face trial.
Through judgment and order in the case on June 7, 2010, the CJM had held eight accused (one of the accused is dead) guilty under Section 304-A, 336, 337 and 338 of IPC. The CBI, the state of Madhya Pradesh and three NGOs had filed criminal revision petition against the judgment before the Sessions Court, Bhopal. The CBI had sought enhancement of charges against Keshub Mahindra, the then UCIL chief and 7 other accused from section 304-A to Section 304 Part-II of IPC based on evidence already before the CJM. It’s the CBI’s revision petition and appeal against sentence by the accused which the Sessions Court is seized of.
The gas victims and their representative NGOs have often pointed to the extremely slow pace of at which the criminal case has been proceeding and their demand for setting up a special court to speed up the proceedings has not yet been acceded to by the state government. Currently the appeals filed by the eight accused against the sentence of CJM court is being heard by the district & sessions judge, Bhopal. In a last-ditch attempt, the accused persons racked up the “sabotage” theory as the cause of Bhopal disaster to absolve them of their responsibility in causing the same.