The Supreme Court’s directive to document and monitor the medical treatment being given to the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster should bring significant relief to those who are struggling to cope with its lasting effects. That the court is having to entrust the supervision of medical relief to an Empowered Monitoring Committee is a strong indictment of the Madhya Pradesh government, and the Centre, which by law is the sole representative of the victims for compensatory claims. Far from displaying any anxiety in alleviating the misery of innumerable gas victims, the State government unleashed police repression on them last December during a protest on the anniversary of the disaster. It is therefore heartening that the highest court of the land has struck a blow to protect the fundamental right to life of those affected, under Article 21. Among the key gaps in the delivery of care to the victims is the absence of accurate disease profiles. Now that the Court has laid down the task and the method, the Centre and the MP government should waste no time in doing what is necessary: creating an electronic medical records database for victims, referring them to appropriate specialists, and instituting a sound diagnostic and therapeutic regime that includes provision of free treatments including renal dialysis, and all essential medications.
The comprehensive failure to address the toxic legacy of Bhopal includes the business-as-usual approach of the Centre and the MP government towards disposal of the waste lying at the disaster site. It is now left to the Empowered Monitoring Committee and two other mandated organisations to pursue this critical question, subject, of course, to the final decision of another bench hearing the matter. By several accounts, the chemical is leaching into the ground and contaminating several square km of the surrounding environment. Only last month, the government announced clearance for the waste to be shipped to Germany. That project will now hopefully gather pace and result in a final solution. In its totality, the response of governments to the chronic and painful Bhopal saga raises troubling questions about the failure of representative democracy and the rule of law. The Centre is already on weak ground, having not secured compensation for the victims on a scale that matches the horrendous tragedy. It is also increasingly seen as unwilling to pass on the cost of environmental harm to polluters, blinkered as it is by a narrow vision of what economic growth means. State governments are unfortunately marching lockstep with it. The intervention of the Supreme Court in Bhopal should occasion a review, and the interests of people made central to the development equation.