Ten women survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy began an indefinite, waterless fast in Bhopal’s Neelam Park on Friday seeking additional compensation for victims.
The Bhopal gas tragedy took place in the intervening night of December 2-3 in 1984 when several lakh people were exposed to methyl isocynate from a Union Carbide pesticide factory, leaving several thousand dead.
It is widely considered as the world’s worst industrial disaster, and outfits fighting for victims have for long held that the compensation given to them was inadequate.
Addressing a press conference, functionaries of five outfits to which these ten women belong claimed victims and their kin will be denied relief if the Union and MP governments do not revise the fatality and injury figures in the curative petition, for additional compensation from Union Carbide and its current owner Dow Chemical, that will be heard in the Supreme Court soon.
“The ten women who started a fast, during which they would not even have water, are from poor Hindu and Muslim families. They, like many, continue to suffer from illnesses caused by the gas leak. Yet, like 93 per cent of the affected population, they have been given just Rs 25,000 as injury compensation,” said Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh.
The government is telling the Supreme Court only 5,295 people died in the gas leak, whereas thousands continue to die from illnesses caused by it and the fatality figure may be close to 25,000, she alleged.
Balkrishna Namdeo, president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Pensionbhogee Sangharsh Morcha, in a press release alleged a firm connected to the factory from which the gas leaked had contributed funds to the ruling party.
Speaking on the “waterless fast” by the women survivors, Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action said the “satyagraha” was aimed at ensuring the SC, which will hear the curative petition on January 10, gets to know the “true magnitude of the damage wrought by the American corporations”.
She also claimed the state government, which was allegedly misleading the courts about the disaster and its effects, was using police to threaten those who were raising their voice, including her organisation, for additional compensation.
Nawab Khan of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha alleged the government had told the apex court 90 per cent of those who got exposed to the gas were only temporarily injured in order to help Dow Chemical escape liability.
“The government chose not to present hospital records and research data that show those exposed actually suffered permanent injuries and chronic diseases. Official records show 95 per cent of the gas affected people who got cancers and 97 per cent of those who suffered fatal kidney diseases had been categorized as temporarily injured,” Khan alleged.
Nousheen Khan of Children Against Dow-Carbide said the Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, who is in charge of matters related to the Bhopal gas tragedy, and the principal secretary of the Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief & Rehabilitation in the state government “promised to help us but both will not let us know the true figures of the dead and injured”.