The ‘betrayal’ of Bhopal gas tragedy survivors was scripted almost immediately after the disaster, with the Indian government colluding with Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) management, documents accessed by survivors’ organisations suggest.
Despite full knowledge that any injury caused by effect of methyl isocynate (MiC) gas inhalation or contact could only be permanent, the UCC proposed "temporary injury" category in a secret settlement document presented to the Indian government as early as March 4, 1985, just four months after the disaster.
Though the proposal was not accepted then, the Indian government adopted the injury categorisation for compensation from this 1985 UCC document almost verbatim when the Bhopal settlement was finally reached in 1989, survivors’ organisations have claimed.
"The biggest betrayal is that 94% of the survivors (of the 5.74 lakh compensated) finally received a paltry compensation of Rs 25,000 each under this ‘temporary injury’ category," said Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group of Information and Action, one of the survivors’ organisations.
A safety consideration report of the Bhopal Union Carbide plant, generated by the engineering department of the UCC in the year 1974 , shows that MiC was given a hazard rating of 4, clearly mentioning that "MiC is a recognised poison by inhalation… Major residual injury is likely in spite of prompt treatment".
Dhingra said that "major residual injury suggests injury of permanent nature".
A copy of the report -- available with HT -- was obtained by survivors’ organisations through a US federal court where a lawsuit for remediation of environmental contamination by Union Carbide factory has been filed by Bhopal residents.
Dhingra said that despite having this internal report, the erstwhile UCC vice-president and treasurer Rolf R Towe, submitted a proposal to the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers on March 4, 1985, making an offer of compensation settlement of Rs 101.08 crores.
In this proposal, the UCC sub-categorised injuries to survivors into four parts.
The sub-category 'C' was 'injuries which required hospitalisation for a day or more not resulting in any permanent disablement' – indicating temporary injury, the activist said.
The BGIA obtained the document through right to information (RTI) from ministry of chemicals and fertilisers (copy available with HT).
Later, in almost a copy of this 1985 UCC proposal, the Indian government categorised injuries into four parts in the Bhopal Settlement of 1989.
Category B of injuries was defined as "claimant has suffered physical/mental injury and the same has been treated and the same has not deteriorated into permanent injury" – again indicating temporary injury, Dhingra said.