Bhopal gas tragedy survivors left in the lurch as aid funds dry up

Effort to tap hospital corpus fund to clear ₹61.72 crore for additional cases; court continues to hear appeals.

October 02, 2019 02:43 am | Updated October 09, 2019 09:44 am IST - Bhopal

Painful memories: Children affected by the Bhopal gas tragedy paying homage to the deceased in 2018.

Painful memories: Children affected by the Bhopal gas tragedy paying homage to the deceased in 2018.

With a surging set of appeals for ex gratia for injuries and disabilities, Bhopal gas tragedy survivors have been left in the lurch as the Centre may soon run out of funds to pay them compensation. It is yet to work out a plan to secure ₹61.72 crore for 3,629 cases pending approval.

The Appellate Court here is continuing to hear appeals, but there is a hold for now on granting final approval by the Union Ministry of Chemical and Fertilizers, says a letter issued by the Ministry in February.

The Welfare Commissioner’s office here, that functions under the Centre, in July 2018 had sent to the Centre a proposal for the sanction of additional 3,629 cases, which are now pending for more than a year, with more number of cases mounting since.

Fast depleting

All this, as the ₹874.28 crore set aside in 2010 for the disbursement of ex gratia is fast drying up, with as much as ₹807.4 crore exhausted until April 2018, says a report of the Standing Committee on Chemicals and Fertilizers (2017-2018).

More than 200 new cases of permanent partial disability have been granted approval, and are awaiting payment.

“Non-payment of awarded amount may cause agitation among the claimants,” Sushant Huddar, In-Charge Registrar of the Welfare Commissioner’s Office, wrote to the State government in June.

The stasis has been caused by the Centre’s attempts to tap a fund first, as in 2010, it had estimated 48,000 claimants, but close to 50,000 have already been compensated so far, says Rachna Dhingra, coordinator, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

At a review meeting in June, the Centre considered banking on the corpus fund of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT), accumulated to ₹891.31 crore, to make ex gratia payments.

For the purpose, it said, Cabinet’s approval would be necessary, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Moreover, a Core Group in the Union Health Ministry has considered the merger of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, thereby facilitating the fund transfer.

A representative of the Department of Health Research, however, clarified “the interest earned from the Corpus Fund may be utilised for the purpose of treatment of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy and their family members.”

The Law Ministry would be consulted on the dissolution of the BMHT and the transfer of funds, say the minutes.

“All the payments to claimants have been frozen,” said an official at the Welfare Commissioner’s office, requesting anonymity.

“Advocates and social workers are pressing us to release funds. But we tell them the Centre has to take a step first. They ask us to keep them informed of the developments.”

On August 28, the Centre had committed to facilitate some payments through the hospital, and later pay it back whenever a budget was finalised, he added.

SC order

“Do they know dissolving the corpus fund will require the Supreme Court’s approval?” asked Ms. Dhingra.

The fund, set up following a 1991 Supreme Court order, cannot be used for non-medical purposes without its approval, she added.

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