In 1985, 152 work sheds were raised at the Govindpura industrial estate in Bhopal to provide employment to survivors of the gas disaster. A few years later, when the government’s plans fizzled out, the same sheds were used to house Rapid Action Force (RPF) jawans.
The sheds still stand — now abandoned — as mute testimony to how the government went about rehabilitating survivors of the 1984 industrial disaster, which had left thousands dead and many more maimed.
Thirty years later, stories of lopsided priorities abound in the disaster-state landscape. But initially the government had come up with an impressive four-pronged strategy covering all the major aspects of rehabilitation — medical, social, economic and environmental.
Soon after the disaster, relief came in the form of free distribution of milk and food-grains in the affected areas.
When NGOs raised the slogan ‘Khairat nahin rozgar chahiye’ (We want job and not charity), six sewing centres were set up and 5,000 women survivors given employment.
But in 1987, the sewing centres were closed down as the government thought that the NGOs working among gas victims were getting ‘manpower’ support from those centres.
“Rs 70 crore was spent in the first phase to provide jobs to gas victims but not even 70 could get permanent jobs,” said Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan.
An Industrial Training Institute (ITI) founded for children of gas victims also didn’t prove very effective. The ITI gave away only state trade certificate (SCBT) and not the national certificate (NCBT) thereby rendering its students ineligible for jobs in central government undertakings.
Fifty per cent of jobs at the rail coach factory that came up in Bhopal in 1984 were reserved for gas victims but out of 2400 employees only 300 to 350 were gas victims, sources said. Seven hospitals and 20-odd dispensaries built for free treatment of gas victims are the only concrete signs of government work for the gas victims.
In the name of social rehabilitation, a gas widows’ colony was set up but living conditions are sub-human, activists said. “All that they were interested in was building and purchase… Rehabilitation money was squandered or bungled then and the same appears to be the fate of amount received now,” said Abdul Jabbar.