They jostle with Congress workers to handover their memoranda
Amid the charred houses and soot-covered trees, those affected by the fire in Perne more than a week ago, braved the heat of the day to list their demands to the Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas M. Veerappa Moily who came calling on Thursday.
“It’s a political gimmick,” said Ismael S., a shopkeeper, whose grocery and condiment shop was gutted, expressing scepticism over the visit of “another politician”. He says he lost more than Rs. 10 lakh in the shop that was engulfed in the fire ball on April 9. “While the kin of the deceased have been given Rs. 1 lakh, those who have lost property have not been given a single paisa,” he said. The fire started after an LPG tanker toppled there.
The sentiment was echoed by those waiting for the Minister, whose whirlwind visit of the site — where Mr. Moily was surrounded by scores of Congress workers — did little to assuage the concerns of the victims. For, most of the victims struggled to handover their memoranda or spell out their demands to Mr. Moily.
Nagaraj, whose brother-in-law Vasanth succumbed to burns, said the company should provide a job for his sister Vijaya. “She now has no way of taking care of herself,” he said. Pushing his way through Congress workers, Nagaraj was barely able to give the printed list of demands to the Minister.
There is visible anger against HPCL, to which the bullet tanker belonged. Sundar Rai, an autorickshaw driver who lost his wife Indira and his house in the blaze, said the company had not even turned up to survey the damage.
Narayana Nayak, a daily-wage worker who lost his wife Vanita and five-year-old son Chitresh, and Abdulla S., who takes care of his sister Khateejamma’s five little children after her death, were among those who pleaded with the Minister for compensation.
“I cannot give assurances as the model code of conduct is in place,” Mr. Moily said, and added that the company had no responsibility after the tanker left the plant. “But, on humanitarian grounds, the company will compensate to amounts that is more than expected,” he said. He added that liability could not be fixed on the company because then “they have to pay for damages happening across the country.”
With compensation funds just trickling, villagers have formed the Perne Gas Tragedy Victims’ Compensation Committee which has started collecting funds. So far, Rs. 75,000 had been collected, and Rs. 10,000 had been given to a few of the victims who needed money urgently, said Mitradas Rai, Vice-President of the Committee. “Our aim is to give at least Rs. 50,000 to each of the affected persons,” he said.