Lalit Shastri

Potable water and clean air still remain a far cry in Bhopal

BHOPAL: On the twenty-second anniversary of the Union Carbide gas disaster that struck Bhopal on the midnight of December 2 and 3, 1984, it is not monetary compensation but the issues of clean drinking water and a pollution-free environment that still continue to haunt the worst-affected communities.

The organisation of the Welfare Commissioner, constituted under the Bhopal Gas Leak (Processing of Claims) Act to adjudicate claims and disburse compensation to the victims, has already disposed of all the 10,29,516 claim cases that had been filed by the gas victims till the end of 2003.

In 2003, when the Welfare Commissioner's organisation was in the process of winding up its work, the Supreme Court had passed a fresh order of pro-rata compensation and entrusted the Welfare Commissioner with the task of disbursing Rs. 1,503 crore to 5,74,272 gas victims within a fixed time-frame.

16,039 cases pending

Justice Deepak Verma, who is the Administrative Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, told The Hindu that in his capacity as Welfare Commissioner, it was his responsibility to ensure that all the rightful claimants were disbursed pro-rata compensation without delay.

By September 2006, there was zero pendency of revision applications, he said adding that 16,039 cases were however still pending as the claimants had failed to appear.

So far, over 15 lakh cases have been adjudicated and compensation to the tune of over Rs. 3,000 crore disbursed by the office of the Welfare Commissioner.

Even as efforts are on to formally declare the remaining twenty municipal wards of the city as gas-affected, the worst-affected communities that rely on hand-pumps to supplement their drinking water needs continue to go through endless suffering with the abandoned plant continuing to pollute ground water. Managing Trustee of Sambhavna Trust Satinath Sarangi said that the source of the contamination of ground water near the Union Carbide factory was the chemical waste that was generated in the factory from the time since it began its operation in 1971.