Activists have called for an urgent response from international agencies such as the United Nations. Photo: Reuters
Activists have called for an urgent response from international agencies such as the United Nations. Photo: Reuters

35 years on, Bhopal gas victims still looking for a day in the sun

  • In the intervening night of 2-3 December 1984, poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked out of the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
  • The highly toxic substance enveloped the surrounding areas, with over 500,000 exposed to the fumes. Considered one of the world's worst industrial disaster, the gas leak maimed generations to come

NEW DELHI : As Bhopal gas tragedy marks 35 years on Tuesday, survivors have continued to struggle for medical, economic and social rehabilitation.

Some NGOs working for the victims of the gas leak found, from documents accessed through the Right to Information Act, that of the 104 crore allocated by the Centre for economic rehabilitation of victims, about 18 crore has been lost to corruption while 86 crore has remained unutilized for the last nine years.

“This when thousands of survivors’ families are facing starvation due to lack of gainful employment. 473 women widowed by the disaster have been denied monthly pension since last year citing lack of funds," said Nousheen Khan of Children against Dow Carbide.

According to another report, again accessed through RTI, from the National Institute for Research on Environmental Health under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), about 9% of the 1048 babies born to mothers who were exposed to the toxic gas had congenital malformations, while in 1247 babies born to unexposed mothers only 1.3% had congenital malformations. The study, which cost over 48 lakh, was carried out from January 2016 to June 2017. The findings though were not made public.

Activists have called for an urgent response from international agencies such as the United Nations, in particular World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to provide technical and humanitarian assistance.

In the intervening night of 2-3 December 1984, poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked out of the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The highly toxic substance enveloped the surrounding areas, with over 500,000 exposed to the fumes. Considered one of the world's worst industrial disaster, the gas leak maimed generations to come.

Meanwhile, the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre, run by the central government, has no doctors specialising in neurology, pulmonary medicine, surgical gastroenterology, and gastro medicine for the past several years. Also, the departments of nephrology and surgical oncology remain shut.

“For the last 7 years no research has been done in this hospital that is run by the department of health research, government of India. Of the 16 new research projects listed by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) centre in Bhopal, only 3 are related to the disaster,“ said Nawab Khan, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha.

The state government’s department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation runs six hospitals, with over 4000 daily patient visits. Ignoring the enormous mental trauma caused by the tragedy, five of these hospitals have not had a psychiatrist for the last 19 years, and one had a part-time consultant for 12 hours a week till he left last month, according to government sources.

“While researching, I found 30 % of the exposed population to be mentally ill in 1985. Sadly, 25 years later 80% have not recovered from their mental illnesses. I found survivors in Latur, Chernobyl, Iraq and other places in the world to be recovering within two to three years of the mass disaster," said Professor Srinivasa Murthy, an international expert on post-disaster mental health care in Bhopal.

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