In Madhya Pradesh polls, victims of Bhopal gas tragedy vow to vote for party that promises compensation

Shahroz Afridi | Oct 30, 2018 | 5 min read


Bhopal gas victims to vote for party that promise compensation

Shahroz Afridi

Bhopal: Survivors of the world’s worst industrial tragedy are still fighting a dual battle - one, internally, struggling with health-related aftermath of the disaster, and second, on the outside, waiting for adequate compensation.

Madhya Pradesh State Assembly Elections were announced on October 6. A meeting between groups working for victims, including Bhopal Group for Information and Action, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogee Sangharsh Morcha and Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh was organized on September 18, and it was decided that in this election, survivors would vote for the party that promised compensation.

The promise would be notarized and not verbal, so that legal action could be initiated against the other party if terms and conditions remained unfulfilled.

About a week ago on October 24, dozens of hoardings and banners sprung up in colonies where tragedy survivors resided in large numbers. The hoarding depicts a historical representative photo of the gas tragedy, with the slogan, ‘Jo muavza dilaega, vote wahi le jayega’ (whoever provides compensation will get votes). The banner also claims that it represents a combined voice of all gas victims and survivors.

“We have been betrayed by all political parties. For us, BJP is no different than the Congress, who allowed Warren Anderson (owner of the Union Carbide factory) to flee . Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has promised Rs 5 lakh compensation to every survivor of the disaster. More than seven years have passed and nothing has been done yet,” said Rachna Dhingra, convener of Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

Explaining the survivors’ strategy, Dhingra says that there are seven constituencies in Bhopal district, where Narela and Bhopal North host the largest population of gas victims and survivors. Both these constituencies have more than 80-90% voters that are directly or indirectly linked with the gas tragedy.

Constituencies like Bhopal Central and Huzur, too, have a sizeable population of victim and survivor families, who still suffer from the aftermath of the disaster. There are around 40% survivor voters in these two constituencies, each, and the numbers are enough to affect results.

Berasia could be considered as the rural extension of the district, but Govindpura and Bhopal South-West, too, have a sizeable population of survivors who migrated.

“On the basis of betrayal faced by the gas survivor’s community, all organizations working for gas victims have decided to ask for a notarized pledge from candidates who are contesting for the post of MLA from these constituencies,” said Dhingra. They have been asked to ensure at least Rs 5 lakh compensation, she added.  

“We are insisting on a notarized pledge, so that if netas backtrack on their words, we would take legal action against them,” informs Rashida Bi, of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karamchari Sangh.

These organizations, working for gas victims and survivors, have started campaigning and have been successful in convincing ward level leaders from the BJP and Congress to agree to their demands. Vinod Kulhare, Sonu Manjhi, Sauraiya Ansari and Narayan Dubey owe their allegiance to BJP and work at mohalla level, but strongly agree to the demands in question. Similarly, Sajid Ansari, JP Naagar and Sanjiv Kumar, who have been promoting and working for Congress, say that they would try and convince their senior leaders to seriously consider the demands or face consequences.  

Out of the two prominent constituencies populated with gas victims and survivors, Bhopal North is represented by Congress MLA Arif Aqueel, while Narela is represented by BJP MLA and Minister of State in the CM’s cabinet, Vishwas Sarang. Both the MLAs avoided questions on compensation, but speak about looking after medical and social needs.

Congress MLA, Arif Aqueel, representing Bhopal North for the last 15 years, said that he has been demanding justice for the victims but the BJP government has not paid any heed. “I have tried to provide them with potable water and basic health facilities from my funds, but the BJP government has done nothing for them. Rather their representatives have encroached upon playground and community halls,” he said.

The MLA from Narela, Vishwas Sarang said, “I have tried to ensure regular medicine supply in gas hospitals besides ensuring good doctors. Moreover, my government has also tried to provide several measures for employment,” said Sarang.

Sarang’s claim was however brushed aside by Rachna Dhingra. She said that Sarang, despite being the minister of state for Bhopal Gas Disaster Relief Affairs in the Shivraj-led BJP government, has done little to provide relief.

The convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, Abdul Jabbar, said that UCC (Union Carbide Corporation) gave a compensation of $470 million (Rs 715 crores).  The payment was received in March 1989. Meanwhile, the state government initiated work of filling compensation forms of gas survivors. The distribution of compensation started in 1990 and has continued for more than a decade. But most of the compensation was provided between 1990-95.

On an average, 94% of the gas victims received Rs 25,000 as compensation. Later, after a legal battle, they received another Rs 25,000 as part of interest accumulated in the banks. Thus, as compensation, the victims received only Rs 25,000, said Jabbar.

Jabbar adds that even today about 5000-7000 odd gas victim patients seek OPD services in seven specialized gas relief hospitals. Two lakh gas victims have been permanently affected after exposure to deadly MIC (Methyl Isocyanate) gas. "The most surprising thing is that no medical treatment protocol has been prescribed for gas victims in 34 years," added Jabbar.

Interestingly, the data provided for compensation and loss by the state and union governments, did not match, and a revision exercise was conducted on court orders. The final data after revision is as follows:  

Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal Gas Victims, MP government  

Category                                                number of cases  

1       personal injury cases                 10,01,723

2       loss of livestock                            658

3       loss property & business           4,901

4       death claims                                 22,149

5       claims of corporations & others           85

          Total number of cases                  10,29,516

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