They are based on faulty medical categorisation and miscalculated figures: survivors' organisations

The report on the Bhopal gas leak submitted by the Group of Ministers (GoM) to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday drew mixed reactions from survivors' organisations here, which have decided to write to him to allow them a hearing at a Cabinet meet to be held on Friday.

While welcoming it as “at least some hope after all,” major survivors' organisations termed the report a pacifier. “We are yet to see the official copy, but from what we hear, there are certain concerns that need to be addressed,” said Abdul Jabbar of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan.

“It is unfortunate that there is no mention of the Empowered Commission on Bhopal promised by the Prime Minister,” Mr. Jabbar added.

Objections were particularly raised over the issue of revised compensation based on faulty medical categorisation and miscalculated figures.

“According to our information, compensation packages are based on old categorisations and figures. If that is the case, I have to say it is unfair,” said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

For instance, of the total number of registered death cases, 15,274 (death claims were actually 22,146, but only 15,274 were approved) only 5,300 would receive the Rs.10 lakh compensation recommended in the GoM report, leaving out 9,974 cases (unofficially around 17,000).

Similarly, compensation for the permanently injured (C category) and temporarily injured (B category) was also decided based on the 1989 figures.

Further, the GoM did not consider the number of people registered by the office of the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal, as dead, disabled and injured from 1989 till 1996, leaving out a large number of eligible claimants.

The GoM report also leaves out the number of people who died after 1996 due to medical complications caused by the gas leak. Unofficial sources put this number at around 20,000.

The compensation packages are as follows: Rs.10 lakh for the dead, Rs. 5 lakh for the permanently injured, and Rs.3 lakh for the temporarily injured. The first two categories amount to six per cent of the cases. Ninety-four per cent of the cases which fall under the third category (temporary disabled) will be eligible for Rs.3 lakh minus the Rs.50,000 already paid to them as compensation in two instalments — Rs.25,000 from 1992 to 2004 and the other Rs.25,000 on a pro-rata basis from 2004 to 2007.

The figure mismatch of the 15,274 death claims occurred as the GoM considered the figures used in the 1989 Supreme Court-brokered financial settlement of $470 million.

“There is no mention of the second and third generation victims and the constant medical complications being caused by the contaminated drinking water,” Mr. Jabbar said.

On the GoM's recommendation of legal recourse to pursue the extradition of Warren Anderson, former chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation, Mr. Sarangi said: “Why just Anderson? The government should also try to bring to book the Union Carbide Corporation (New York) and the Union Carbide Eastern (Hong Kong) since they are also absconders. This would open the option of slapping a monetary fine on the two corporations, which could be used for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims.”

Objections were also raised over the recommendation of earmarking Rs.300 crore of public money for cleaning up the area on and around the Union Carbide factory premises.

Wrong precedent

The organisations pointed out that this would set a wrong precedent for other corporations to evade their environmental responsibilities.

“Chief scientists of various hazardous waste disposal companies have told us that India is not technologically quipped to dispose of the hazardous waste lying in the factory and it will have to be shipped out. So even Rs.300 crore wouldn't be sufficient for the clean-up,” Mr. Sarangi said.