Friday, December 04, 2009

Bhopal Gas Tragedy Part-II: Injustice with victims, Indifference towards survivors while Congress leaders lobby for Dow Chemicals

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

On the left is the photograph of Ghazala on Eid in 1984.

Just a few months later, she lost her vision and the toxic gas turned this bubbly and beautiful girl into permanently ill individual.

Despite doing their best to get her treated and in process selling off whatever they had, her parents--who were also gas affected, died.

Ghazala is just one of the innumerable individuals who lost their dreams forever on gas tragedy. The irony is that there are similar stories in thousands of households in Bhopal.

 Death Toll in Chernobyl [Russia]: 56                                              
 Death Toll in Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Over 25,000 until 1990            
 when govt stopped counting the deaths due to gas and its after-effects.

What is worse that even relief and rehabilitation was denied to majority of the survivors. Today, not just the after-affects linger, the diseases are passed on to next generations. More over, the huge toxic waste that hasn't been cleaned up in and around factory, has poisoned the soil and water. The contamination level is a whopping 60 times more in these areas.

Sick hospitals

On the left is the photograph of the super-specialty Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) that was established at a cost of Rs 175 crore, after the dollar 470 million dollar settlement between the Centre and multinational company, however, this sprawling hospital complex that is built over 150 acres is in a total mess.

Of the 16 departments, just nine could be established. Gas patients that ought to have been treated free for life, are not given free treatment and asked to go elsewhere, costly medicines aren't given, no patient howsoever critical he may be, is admitted.

On the contrary, private patients who can pay up are given benefits of this hospital. Besides, of the 133 posts of doctors, nearly 75 are vacant. All costly equipment that had been bought are getting rusted in this hospital. Strangely, neither state government nor the administration take any interest.  

Reasons are not far to seek. Wherever the upper class and the vocal or connected middle class goes, things do remain at least in a working condition.

This is true for most govt hospitals in India, which are now frequented by poor, as the rest go to private nursing homes, which are well-maintained.

The gas victims are mostly from the poor stratum. Naturally moneyed and salaried class goes to private hospitals and the govt hospitals in Bhopal are in a really bad shape.

Activists and even journalists seem to have given up, as government doesn't bother. This is not just the tale of BMHRC. But conditions in the Indira Gandhi Hospital, Kamla Nehru Hospital, Shakir Ali Khan Hospital and Rasul Ahmad Siddiqui Pulmonary Centre that were all built specifically for the purpose, are even worse.

The last, RAS Pulmonary Centre, was built because gas victims suffer from diseases of lungs and there are few specialists. The cruel joke is that today, this hospital has 'dentists' posted instead of the specialists who were needed for curing the critically ill.

Even justice not just got delayed but was also denied. Whatever little compensation the victims got was too little and too late, obtained through 'dalaals'. When victims are poor, media also lose focus. Courts also go ahead only to an extent, as organisations fighting the case don't have money to hire the top lawyers.

There is no public outrage as in the case of lobbying done by the vocal middle-class in Jessica Lal case or similar other high-profile murders.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Compensation for death: Rs 1 lakh                     
Injured and gas-affected: Rs 25,000                   
Received after 8-20 yrs with out any interest paid
Uphaar Cinema Hall Fire
Compensation: Rs 15-18 lakh
Received after 6 years with 9% interest

World Trade Centre Attack
Compensation: Received within a year
Ruth Waterman and the story of Mamta

Mamta was just six when she got separated from her mother, who was running holding her youngest child.

The baby died in arms and and she also died. Mamta grew motherless. Also a gas victim, with no money for treatment let alone education. Ruth Waterman, who had lost her parents in Hitler's gas chambers, and herself as a minor girl survived Holocaust, had met Mamta.

It was Waterman who had created the sole monument ever made in the memory of gas victims. Her sculpture of universal mother with a baby in arms and Mamta [not visible in this view] clinging by the mother's dress, is symbol of gas tragedy.

For 25 years no state or central government thought that there was need for any memorial. Suddenly there was a proposal to earmark Rs 116 crore for the purpose this year. And the bureaucrats for whom gas tragedy was disinteresting, again came back like 'vultures' to feast on the funds.

Politicians, bigwigs lobbying for Dow Chemicals

In no other country, any public figure would have brazenly tried to speak against the interests of nearly half-a-million citizens and absolve the company  it of its responsibility. [Dow Chemicals had taken over Union Carbide Limited]. However, Congress leader and spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi pled the case for Dow.

Nost just Kamal Nath, Montek Singh Ahluvalia but also P Chidambaram lobbied for the same cause.The chemical company has been shrugging all its repsonsibility towards cleaning the huge contamination, factory effluent, and toxic waste lying over an area of 67 acres in Carbide and around.

Even though the case is sub-judice and despite the fact that it is well-known, the intense lobbying took place. It could shame everybody.

*Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the lawyer for Dow, gave opinion to Prime Minister's office that Dow can not be held responsible for cleanup

*Dow chairman Andrew Liveris wrote to Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen that Union ministry for chemicals and fertilisers should withdraw its application for remediation costs. Soon the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram wrote to Prime Minister over the issue.

*Montek Singh Ahluvwalia sent a letter to PMO explaining that it is not possible for DOW to come up with its proposed investment in India unless the liability issue is cleared.

*Kamal Nath wrote to PM that resolving the issue was necessary to give the right signal to Dow, which is exploring investment opportunities in India.

*Ratan Tata wrote to planning commission that it was critical for Dow to have the ministry withdraw the application for a financial deposit against the remediation cost.

*Most recently Jairam Ramesh came to Bhopal, visited Carbide factory and stunned everybody by declaring that there was no toxic waste left, here.

[This is the second part of the series on Gas Tragedy. As a child I was witness to the horrors of the gas tragedy and as a journalist covered it to some extent. The aim is to provide a true account of the tragedy and its aftermath, which many weren't aware outside Bhopal because it was not a satellite-TV/internet era back in 1984. ]


[Shams Ur Rehman Alavi is a journalist for 17 yrs. He lives in Bhopal]