Bhopal gas tragedy victims face agonising neglect even after 37 years

‘I think the life of a gas victim is a lot like a football,’ says a 64-year-old survivor, recounting years of protests and petitions

December 03, 2021 04:29 pm | Updated 07:29 pm IST - Bhopal

Survivors of the Bhopal Gas Disaster with social workers burning an effigy of DOW Chemicals on 37th Anniversary of Bhopal Gas Tragedy infront of abondened Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on December 03, 2021.

Survivors of the Bhopal Gas Disaster with social workers burning an effigy of DOW Chemicals on 37th Anniversary of Bhopal Gas Tragedy infront of abondened Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on December 03, 2021.

Even 37 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, hundreds of survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster continue to the fight to receive adequate medical attention and compensation. The poisonous gases that leaked from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide factory on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984 continue to cause suffering and death among survivors.

Raeesa Bi (64), a gas victim who lost three members of her family, including her husband and a daughter, said: “Food grains and medical care, compensation and widow pension — all have come only after prolonged protests, submission of memorandums, visits to Government Departments, hours and hours of meetings with officials and Ministers, and petitions filed in the local court (in Bhopal), High Court (in Jabalpur) and in the Supreme Court. I think the life of a gas victim is a lot like football.”

“Unfortunately, even over three-and-a-half decades after the disaster, neither the State nor the Central Government has attempted to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the ramifications of the disaster or take the necessary remedial measures,” Ms. Bi, who is president of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan, added.

At least 3,000 lives were lost in the disaster, according to government records. However, human rights campaigners, including the late Abdul Jabbar, and the co-convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti N.D. Jayaprakash, count 25,000 among the dead, with 5,50,000 others injured and disabled. They claim that the gas leak from UCIL’s storage tanks spread over 40 sq km and affected two-thirds of the city’s then population of around 900,000 people. The impact on the flora and fauna in the affected area was equally devastating.

UCIL was controlled then by the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), a company now owned by the Dow Chemical Company, a subsidiary of Dow Inc., a giant U.S. multinational.

Activists and organisations working for the gas victims are demanding speedy implementation of the Supreme Court’s order of August 9, 2012, which had directed the Union of India to provide the best medical care to the gas victims; speedy disposal of petitions for better compensation; and remediation of the contaminated site.

Some other demands include proper rehabilitation of all needy gas victims, especially widows; provision of safe drinking water; free medical care; compensation to all victims of contaminated water and toxic waste; and the setting up of a Special Court for the speedy prosecution of the accused.

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