Ironically, the curative petition filed by the Central government in the Supreme Court in 2010 to ‘cure’ the gross injustice done to gas victims in terms of compensation was flawed. The figures of deaths and extent of injuries as presented in the curative petition were only a fraction of the actual damage caused by the disaster.
In the curative petition filed on the 26th anniversary of gas disaster, December 3, 2010, the Government of India had sought a sum of between $629 million and $1.2 billion as additional compensation from the American companies for 2,295 deaths and 4,66,293 injured persons, who had not been included in the settlement of 1989.
The curative petition, though flawed in terms of number of deaths and injuries, was the Government of India’s first serious effort to make amends for the paltry settlement of 1989. The death figure in the curative petition is also at odds with that in the Madhya Pradesh government’s Action Plan of 2008, which says it is almost 16,000.
Similar to the death figure, official figures of the extent of injuries caused by the disaster are sharply different from those presented in the curative petition. While records from the hospitals run by the Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation show that there were 5,02,686 persons (88% of the total population acknowledged to be injured, 569081) with chronic illnesses 18 years after the disaster, only 7% of the persons acknowledged to have suffered exposure-induced injuries have been categorised as having suffered permanent injury.
Not only was the scheme of medical categorisation designed to downplay the health damage, its implementation was done so ineptly that it could well have been deliberate. The three main tests – pulmonary function test, exercise tolerance test and urinary thiocyanate test – were carried out on less than 18% of the claimants who were medically examined.
The overwhelming majority of gas victims were categorised, not on the basis of any clinical examination, but on the medical records they could furnish to support their claims, records that most had not been given.
The grotesque injustice inherent in the government’s medical categorisation is possibly nowhere so evident as in the area of Jaiprakash Nagar where, according to a house-to- house survey by the Sambhavna Trust, an NGO, 91% of the residents were categorised as “temporarily injured” and paid minimum compensation of Rs 25,000.
Survivors’ and supporters’ organisations in Bhopal, who are intervening in the matter of the curative petition pending before the SC, have presented estimates of deaths and injuries related to the disaster based on findings of scientific research. According to the survivors’ petition, the GoI should be claiming at least $ 8.1 billion which is about seven times the amount it is currently claiming.
For the survivors’ organisations of Bhopal, the amendment in curative petition as promised by Union minister for chemical and fertilisers Ananth Kumar during their agitation in Delhi is being seen as a significant reason for hope. They feel that the present government at the centre would be as keen on ensuring American corporations obey the laws of the land and pay compensation accordingly, as it is of inviting them to invest in India.
(The author is a social activist. The views expressed are personal)