TWENTY-TWO YEARS after the world’s worst industrial disaster struck Bhopal, the Madhya Pradesh Government is still toying with the idea of constructing a memorial of the Union Carbide gas tragedy. However, hundreds of huge buildings serve as ‘monuments’, as they remind the gas victims of the ambitious plans for their relief and rehabilitation, which never materialised.
Huge hospital buildings for medical and industrial sheds for economic rehabilitation, a large ITI building for training in industrial occupations, gas widows’ colony etc. All for rehabilitation of gas victims. But, none of the plans seem to have worked and the cries of victims’ ‘neglect’ grows shriller by the year.
Medical care of gas victims is being carried out under supervision of the Supreme Court following a public interest litigation filed by Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) and Bhopal Group for Information & Action in 1998. The petition is still pending and on each hearing, the Apex Court receives report of the Monitoring Committee appointed it on whether the medical facilities being provided to gas victims were satisfactory.
This is what a member of the Monitoring Committee Purnendu Shukla has to say. “There is acute shortage of specialists in gas relief hospitals. Kamla Nehru or Pulmonary Medicine Centre may be super-specialty hospitals in name, but the treatment offered there is as ordinary as any civil hospital. We have asked for more specialists and the SC had set a deadline for it, which was later extended at the request of gas relief department. The extended deadline is also coming to an end, but they have failed to appoint specialists for specific treatment of the victims,” he said.
Foundation stone for the construction of Pulmonary Medicine Centre, Kamla Nehru Super-specialty Hospital and Indira Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children was laid the same year - 1987. But, Pulmonary Medicine Centre, which was meant to treat respiratory disorders and other lung-related diseases, found in gas victims was the first to be commissioned in 1994.
The huge hospital constructed at a cost of Rs 4 crore and equipped with machines and other gadgets worth Rs 3 crore was run as badly as a civil hospital in a remote district. Specialists could never be appointed in the hospital, its operation theatre and ICU never became operational and its lifts are always out of order. Costly equipment like Cardio, Colour Doppler, Eliza Reader, Gamma Counter, BOD Incubator, Laminar Flow, Nabulizers and many more available at the hospital were never used.
Says Shukla, “The Pulmonary Medicine Centre is virtually defunct. It is painful to see that Eliza Reader, which is used to detect HIV+ virus, has been with the hospital since its inception but has never been used. There are no specialists and a hospital that was to treat respiratory disorders and other lung ailments is only treating cough, cold and fever.”
The case of Kamla Nehru Super-specialty Hospital is no different. Constructed at a cost of Rs 23 crore and commissioned in
July 2000, it was to provide medical facilities to gas victims under one roof, but that never happened. In the course of time three floors of the hospital building have been taken over by Gandhi Medical College, another two are being utilised by Hamidia Hospital as burn wards and proposed cancer ward of Hamidia is likely to be housed in this building.
The hospital, which was to have 260 doctors from different disciplines, only has a staff of about 100. In the crowds at Hamidia Hospital, this huge hospital on the same campus seems deserted.
Indira Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children, constructed at the cost of Rs 6 crore, had been doing well till recently, says Shukla. “At least it was providing facilities for safe childbirth, but following retirement of the only surgeon and opening up of the hospital for non-gas victims, the actual sufferers are being marginalised here as well,” he said.
On the other hand, convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) Abdul Jabbar feels that the government and its agencies, as usual, were interested in civil construction and equipment purchase. Once it was done, they withdrew and even the Supreme Court’s supervision and two panels appointed to ensure proper medical care to victims have failed to galvanise the government into effective working.
The government also had huge plans for economic rehabilitation of gas victims and providing them jobs according to their reduced work capacity. In 1987, 40 work sheds were constructed in gas-affected colonies to provide sewing jobs to women victims. Initially, these work sheds were run by an NGO, Mahila Chetna Manch, but later the State Government took over the industrial sheds, which provided jobs to 2,300 women.
In October same year, then Union Industries Minister J Vengal Rao and Chief Minister Motilal Vora laid the foundation stone for a special industrial complex for gas victims in Govindpura Industrial Estate. It was conceived that industries needing less physical labour, like readymade garments, electronic goods, food processing etc would be set up in the complex and the State Government would offer entrepreneurs subsidies so victims could get meaningful employment.
The complex spread over 21 hectares and costing Rs 8 crore, was ready by 1990. It was conceived that it would provide jobs to 10,000 victims initially and another 10,000 three years later.
However, the ambitious plan could never take off, as the subsequent BJP Government refused to give subsidies on power, tax and other facilities promised by the earlier regime. And, when riots broke out in Bhopal in 1992, the sheds were converted into barracks for Central paramilitary forces that had come to control riots. In 2005, industries department began the process of evacuating these sheds and allotting them to willing entrepreneurs, but the original plan of economic rehabilitation of victims is by now lost.
Meanwhile, construction of an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) had also begun in Govindpura so that trained manpower (gas victims) could be provided to industries that were to be set up in the special industrial complex.
The ITI, constructed with Rs 8 crore and equipped with machines worth over Rs 3 crore has now been handed over to technical education department. A portion of its majestic building has been taken over by Bhoj Open University and nobody knows how many victims trained in different trades at the ITI between 1993 and 2004 have got employment.
However, Jabbar says that the State Government has so far spent Rs 70 crore in the name of economic rehabilitation of gas victims and not even 70 gas victims have got gainful employment through their efforts.
Not only gas victims, their well-wishers - activists who have carried out their fight for justice - but also 225-odd buildings housing welfare courts, industrial sheds meant for employment to gas victims, hospitals and dispensaries for their medical care are also witness to sloppiness in rehabilitation work.