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Statement on 28th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak disaster

Written By Krishna on Sunday, December 02, 2012 | 9:17 AM


On the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak disaster of 02/03.12.1984, which has already left over 20,000 dead and had inflicted injuries in varying degree on over 550,000 other human inhabitants of Bhopal, the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) and the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) pay their homage to the departed and reiterate their determination to continue to uphold the cause of the survivors.

As noted on previous occasions, the truth is that even nearly three decades after the disaster, neither the State nor the Central Government has made any attempt to either undertake a comprehensive assessment of the ramifications of the Bhopal disaster or to take necessary remedial measures. As a result, the gas-victims have had to wage concerted struggles in their quest for medical relief, compensation and justice. During 2012, while achieving partial success on the litigation front, lack of progress on most other pressing issues concerning the Bhopal gas-victims continue to remain a source of major concern. The current status of issues such as health care, enhancement of compensation, prosecution of the accused, economic rehabilitation, remediation of the environment, etc., may be briefly recounted as follows:

1. HEALTH: The gross indifference on the part of the State and Central Governments to the health needs of the gas-victims continues to be as grim as ever. Apart from the fact that a fairly large infrastructure has been set up in terms of buildings and number of hospital beds as a result of pressure exerted over the years by organizations supporting the cause of the Bhopal gas victims, the quality of health care in terms of diagnosis, investigation and treatment continue to be abysmal as ever. The persistent apathy on the part of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in monitoring the health status of the Bhopal gas victims – through computerization and networking of hospital medical records and by ensuring the supply of health-booklet to each gas-victim with his/her complete medical record – is shocking to say the least. That a proper protocol for treatment of each gas-related ailment has not been evolved even 28 years after the disaster speaks volumes about the lackadaisical approach of the concerned authorities in this regard.

It was because of this utter callousness on the part of the ICMR and the State Government that BGPMUS, the Bhopal Group for Information & Action (BGIA) and BGPSSS – as Petitioners Nos.1, 2 and 3 – were compelled to file a writ petition (Writ Petition No.50 of 1998) before the Supreme Court on 14 January 1998 seeking restarting of disaster-related medical research, monitoring and recording of health status of each gas-victim, improvement in health care facilities, appropriate protocol for treatment of each disaster-related ailment, etc. After 14 years of litigation, the Supreme Court acceded to the prayers of the Petitioners and vide Order dated 09.08.2012 has directed the ICMR and the State Government to comply with a variety of tasks. The most notable directions of the Court that have far-reaching implications can be summarized as follows:
* The ICMR as well as the NIREH (National Institute for Research in Environmental Health, Bhopal) have been directed “to ensure that research work is carried on with exactitude and expeditiousness and further to ensure disbursement of its complete benefit to the gas victims”.

* The Monitoring Committee (which was set up by the Supreme Court on 17.08.2004 to monitor the problems related to health care) has been directed to operationalize medical surveillance; workout modalities for computerization of medical records; and to ensure that ‘health booklets’ and ‘smart cards’ are provided to each gas victim.

* The Monitoring Committee has been granted complete jurisdiction to oversee the proper functioning of BMHRC and other BGTRRD hospitals, with regard to problems relatable to gas-victims.

* The Monitoring Committee, with the aid of the Advisory Committee, NIREH and the specialized doctors of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (BMHRC), has been directed to prepare a standardized protocol for treating each category of ailment that the gas victims may be suffering from and also to scientifically categorize patients and injuries.

* The State Government and the Monitoring Committee have been directed to evolve a methodology of common referral system amongst the various medical units under the BMHRC and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief & Rehabilitation Department (BGTRRD) under the State Government to ensure that the gas victims are referred to appropriate centres for proper diagnosis and treatment in terms of the nature and degree of injury suffered by each one of them.

* The concerned authorities have been directed to take appropriate steps in all respects not only to fill up vacancies of doctors and supporting staff but also to provide such infrastructure and facilities so that doctors are not compelled to or prefer to resign from employment (especially from BMHRC) due to inadequate facilities.

* The Government of India and the Government of Madhya Pradesh have been directed to take immediate steps for disposal of the toxic waste lying in and around the Union Carbide factory, Bhopal, on the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee, Advisory Committee and the NIREH within the next six months.

The sad part is that, despite the Supreme Court’s Order with clear-cut directions that was issued four months ago, neither the ICMR nor the State Government has taken any noticeable step to implement the said directions. Thus, as far as gas-victims are concerned, the ground realities are hardly different from what they were four months ago and, in fact, conditions especially at BMHRC have only gone from bad to worse.  Under the circumstances, BGPMUS & BGPSSS sincerely hope that the Monitoring Committee would take all necessary steps to ensure that the State Government and the ICMR implements the said directions of the Supreme Court without further delay so that BGPMUS & BGPSSS are not compelled to move the High Court for appropriate relief.

2.  COMPENSATION: Twenty-one years after the unjust Bhopal Settlement of 14/15 February 1989, the Government of India had decided to file a curative petition (Curative Petition Nos.39-42 of 2010) before the Supreme Court on 03 December 2010 against the terms of the Settlement on the plea that the Settlement was based on underestimated figures of dead and injured. The petition has been admitted but has not yet been listed for hearing.  Although BGPMUS and BGPSSS support the GOI’s Curative Petition in principle regarding the total casualty figure (i.e., 5,73,000+ dead and injured) and regarding the modalities for enhancing compensation (i.e., that it should be based on the Dollar-Rupee exchange rate as it prevailed at the time of the Settlement), there is serious difference regarding the number of dead and seriously injured and regarding estimation of claims for relief & rehabilitation and for environmental damage. The stand of BGPMUS & BGPSSS regarding the number of dead (20,000+) and seriously injured (150,000+) has already been explained in the Special Leave Petition (SLP) that is currently pending before the Supreme Court as SLP No.12893 of 2010. BGPMUS & BGPSSS are in the process of intervening in the GOI’s Curative Petition challenging the Settlement.

3.  CRIMINAL CASE: The criminal cases against the accused are proceeding at two levels: one against the 3 absconding accused and the other against the 8 accused who appeared before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, to face trial. Through Judgment and Order dated 07.06.2010, the CJM has already prosecuted the said 8 accused under Section 304-A, 336, 337 and 338 of IPC. The CBI, the State of MP and BGPMUS & BGPSSS had filed Criminal Revision Petitions against the said Judgment of the CJM before the Sessions Court, Bhopal. By completely overlooking the plea of the Prosecution and by upholding the contentions of the accused in toto, the Sessions Court, Bhopal, on 28.08.2012 dismissed CBI’s Criminal Revision Petition No.632 of 2010 against the said Judgment on account of it “being not maintainable and barred by limitation”. The CBI had sought enhancement of charges against Keshub Mahindra and 7 other accused from Section 304-A to Section 304 Part-II of IPC on the basis of evidence already before the Court of the CJM.  Thus, the ray of hope that was visible in the Supreme Court’s Order dated 11.05.2011, which was that the misreading of its Order dated 13.09.1996 by the CJM “can certainly be corrected by the appellate/ revisional court”, was temporarily extinguished. However, there is still hope that the plea for considering enhancement of charges against the said accused would be accepted when similar Criminal Revision Petitions filed the State of MP and by BGPMUS & BGPSSS, which are certainly not barred by limitation, are heard by the Sessions Court on 19.01.2013. BGPMUS & BGPSSS have already expressed their thorough displeasure at the extremely slow pace at which the criminal case has been proceeding and their demand for setting up a special court to speed up the proceedings has not yet been acceded to by the State Government.  

The criminal case against the 3 absconding accused, which has been pending before the Court of the CJM as Miscellaneous Judicial Case (MJC) No.91 of 1992 has also been proceeding at a very slow pace. After acceding to the plea of BGPSSS, BGIA and BGPMUS dated 07.09.2001, the CJM had issued notice to the Dow Chemical Company, USA, on 06.01.2005 to appear in the criminal case on behalf of the absconding accused No.10, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA, which had become a wholly owned subsidiary of TDCC in 2001. However, on 17.03.2005, the MP High Court at Jabalpur had stayed the said order of the CJM at the urging of a purportedly non-party in the matter. The stay was vacated only seven years later on 19.10.2012, when the High Court finally upheld the validity of the CJM’s Order dated 06.01.2005. After BGPSSS & BGPMUS brought the decision of the High Court to the attention of the CJM through an Application dated 30.11.2012, the case – MJC No.91/1992 – was posted for hearing on 07.01.2013. BGPSSS & BGPMUS also brought to the attention of the CJM that proceeding against absconding accused No.1, Warren Anderson, had not apparently progressed after the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Delhi, had issued a Letter Rogatory on 23.03.2011 at the urging of the CBI for the purpose.
ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION: As far as remediation of the affected environment in and around the former Union Carbide plant at Bhopal was concerned, a comprehensive study to estimate the extent and gravity of the damage has not been carried out as yet. Moreover, the proposed plan to bury the toxic waste near Indore is wholly misconceived and would only result in superficially shifting the problem from Bhopal to Indore. It is the duty and responsibility of the Dow Chemical Company, USA, which currently owns UCC, USA, to comprehensively remediate the affected environment in and around the Union Carbide plant with the latest available technology. Similarly, the cost for providing safe-drinking water to the affected population residing in and around the former Union Carbide plant too has to be borne by Dow Chemicals. However, the responsibility for providing safe drinking water to the affected population is entirely that of the State Government, which has not yet fulfilled its duty in this regard.

On the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, BGPMUS & BGPSSS reiterate their determination to carry on their struggle to ensure justice for the victims of that tragedy.  

(Abdul Jabbar Khan)                       (N.D. Jayaprakash)
Convener, BGPMUS,                      Co-Convener, BGPSSS
Tel: 0755-2748688                           Tel: 011-27666980
Mobile: +91-9406511720                Mobile: +91-9968014630               
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