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Eight months on, 4,999 Bhopal gas leak widows await pension

Women, whose husbands died in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak at Karond in Bhopal on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

Women, whose husbands died in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak at Karond in Bhopal on Thursday, July 30, 2020.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

Gyarsibai Prajapati is thankful to her house owner for waiving the rent for four months, albeit not due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For eight months, the 90-year-old woman, whose husband died in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, has been awaiting in vain a monthly pension of a meagre ₹1,000.

Bhopal gas survivors left in the lurch

“That amount is invaluable for me,” said Ms. Prajapati, as she clutched in her right hand a tattered ration card indicating her ‘below poverty line’ status. She leans on a cane under her other hand, behind several people in a queue outside a fair price shop on Thursday afternoon. The point of sale machine does not recognise her nearly flat thumb, perhaps calloused due to age, thus precluding her from getting ration for three days.

“I used to pay my rent of ₹400 using the pension, and bought vegetables and lentils from the market. But now, only the ration shop can feed me,” said Ms. Prajapati, who resides on the first floor of an apartment in the Jeevan Jyoti colony here, an enclave for the widows. Her son and his family live on the third floor in the house allotted to her.

Also read | Anxiety grips Bhopal gas tragedy survivors as hospital designated as COVID-19 facility

Like her, as many as 4,998 other women, whose husbands died in the methyl isocyanate leak from a pesticide plant have been awaiting widows’ pension since December 2019. If the cessation of pension, initiated in 2011, wasn’t enough, the lockdown has also nibbled away at livelihoods of their children and grandchildren and spiked food prices, pushing families deeper into poverty. The pension was ceased earlier from April 2016 to November 2017, but initiated again after being prompted by activists.

The widows need the pension during the pandemic more than ever, said Balkrishna Namdeo of Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha. “The government is going back on its stand,” he said. The 2011-2012 annual report of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department said the pension would be “lifelong”.

Also read | 35 years after Bhopal Gas Tragedy, survivors decry lack of relief

With the pension, Chironji Bai, 84, a diabetes and hypertension patient, bought medicines and vegetables. “During the lockdown it would have helped meet the family’s food needs,” she said. Her two grandsons, who made ₹3,000-₹4,000 a month at garments and furniture shops, are now left without work. The third one, who recently found work at a gutkha factory, supports the family now.

Food inflation amid the pandemic has made matters worse, say the women. Vidyabai Namdeo, 70, has stopped buying tomatoes after its price surged to ₹80 per kg here. Even chillis, which sold for ₹10 for half a kg earlier, were now selling at ₹20 for 250 grams. “At such times, each penny counts and the pension would have helped us,” said Ms. Namdeo, whose son, a daily-wage mason, barely finds work now.

“There are no funds left,” the department’s director, Basant Kurre, told The Hindu. The pension scheme, he said, was only meant for five years and the Centre had allocated ₹30 crore for it. Using the interest on that amount, it was extended for another two years. “Now it’s a policy decision. We have referred the matter to the government,” he said.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 4:42:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/eight-months-on-4999-bhopal-gas-leak-widows-await-pension/article32233865.ece

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