Three uniformed men stood tall on the intervening night of December 2/3, 1984 and many more hours after that despite the life-threatening situation to ensure that maximum people could be saved from the worst industrial disaster of the world.
They were nauseated, suffered from extreme eye irritation and even felt suffocated at times, but they continued on line of duty, not even worrying about their families back home, who were also exposed to the deadly impact of the methyl isocyanate (MiC).
All three -- two police officers and an armyman -- managed to survive the holocaust but carry deep scars in the form of severe health complications even today. But there is one common scar that hurts all these three ex-officers the deepest.
None of them (and in two cases their families) were paid any compensation meant for the gas victims though they were in the thick of action during the gravest hours and badly struck by the toxic MiC fumes. Also no recognition came their way for their life-saving action.
Retired additional superintendent of police Surendra Singh Thakur, who was the in-charge of Hanumanganj Police Station when the gas tragedy struck, retired deputy superintendent of police Naseem Khan, who was in-charge of Gunga police station on city outskirts, and ex-armyman from Jammu & Kashmir Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Wani, who was posted as ordinary captain with the 3EME centre infantry in Bhopal that rushed for rescue work on the fateful night, are all bitter men today.
Despite being victims of the gas tragedy, the police officers along with their families and the armyman were denied the compensation on a common ground that they did not appear for the hearing in the claim court. The two police officers, who got posted to various districts of the state later, say that they never received any communication or summons for their appearance.
Wani's case is more interesting. He received multiple communications (dated April 4, 2007, October 1 and October 29, 2010) mentioning that his case had been processed and he should come and claim his compensation, but when he approached the officials of the state gas relief and rehabilitation department, he was told that no letters were sent to him. Finally, on February 2, 2011, the office of the welfare commissioner for Bhopal gas victims closed his case, citing a Supreme Court order of March 2001.
"I lost one of my kidneys and still suffer from lung and eye problems. But for the military hospital, I wouldn't have survived today. I remained involved in rescue operations for three days at a stretch before falling unconscious and I am being denied even the basic compensation," Wani said while talking to HT on the telephone from his home in Bandipura (J&K).
Surendra Singh Thakur says that he is thankful that he and his family survived the night and does not much care about the compensation. "But it makes me feel that my role in relief and rescue work is undermined as I didn't even get any official recognition for it. At least the compensation would be an endorsement for my efforts," he told HT over the telephone from Jabalpur.
Six members of Khan's family have suffered over the years because of inhaling the gas while being in their residential quarters in Kotwali area on the night. Khan himself got partial monthly compensation irregularly between 1990 and 1993 but the full compensation to him and family was denied because of non-appearance. "I remember standing on Berasia Road in my area of jurisdiction and trying to stop victims who had inhaled the gas from running as running made their condition worse. I did not care about my family back home and tried my best to save as many as I can, but me and my family have got only health problems in return. It is indeed painful mainly because I have been a government servant," Khan said over the telephone from Balaghat.
Gas activist Abdul Jabbar, who has decided to take up their case for possible resolution, says that these officers have been wronged totally by the state government. "If police officials and army person could not get due compensation, one can imagine how many more common genuine victims might have been similarly denied," he says.
Gas relief and rehabilitation commissioner Muktesh Varshneya says that there is nothing that could be done in any compensation related matter now. "The compensation claim process has been sealed by the Supreme Court. There cannot be any consideration for any fresh claim case now," he told HT.