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'Like Hiroshima, old Bhopal should have been rebuilt after gas tragedy'

Retired district judge Renu Sharma talks to HT on confusion regarding the actual number of deaths due to exposure to deadly methyl isocyanate, compensation and other issues.

bhopal Updated: Dec 02, 2014 16:31 IST
Ashutosh Shukla
Ashutosh Shukla
Hindustan Times

Retired district judge Renu Sharma, who was also the registrar at welfare commissioner’s office towards the end of her career in judiciary, talked to HT on confusion regarding the actual number of deaths due to exposure to deadly methyl isocyanate, compensation and other issues:

Why is there so much confusion about the number of deaths caused by the gas disaster? It’s weakening the case of gas victims for greater compensation.
I’m not in the office of welfare commissioner anymore, and as such I’m not competent to speak about the affidavit which its office is said to have filed before court. But, as far as I understand, they only mean that 5,295 persons died the night of disaster itself or within a few days after that due to exposure to MIC. The rest of the persons compensated for death are those who died later on, but in medical opinion due to gas-inflicted diseases.

Those who died in the later years due to gas-inflicted diseases, why shouldn’t they be counted among persons killed in the gas disaster?
Those who died immediately after the gas leak were compensated for death without post-mortem report, medical opinion or any other evidence. But those who died later on must have produced medical evidence. Opinion of doctor must have been sought and through process of judicial adjudication, they must have been compensated for death. The two types of death will have to be differentiated.

But why stick to the figure of 5,295 and not include rest of the 15,345 people compensated for death?
I am sure the office of welfare commissioner must have given all the figures, but not the total figure of deaths drawn from different categories. There are a number of people who died of cancer, which in doctor’s opinion was gas-inflicted. There are a number of people who died of kidney failure and doctor opined that it was due to exposure to gas. All these numbers must be there but not in a manner that the NGOs must be pressing. They are people compensated for death based on medical evidence.

Do you think justice was not done to gas victims?
I arrived at Bhopal the next day after the gas leak. I saw heaps of bodies lying on the road. What people suffered is painful, but I somehow feel why people should always be expecting compensation for themselves. People, who must have been children at the time of gas disaster, must be young men or women or middle-aged. Why should they be expecting dole from the government or a company to make their lives better. Even if they get 2-3 lakh more, how many days would it last! I had been to Hiroshima in 1985, 40 years after the atomic explosion ruined that city. I was surprised to see how they have rebuilt the city... Old Bhopal, which is the worst affected area from the gas disaster, should have been transformed in the memory of those who perished in this tragedy. Sewerage system, tapped water supply, good roads; old city lacks it all. But, unfortunately emphasis has been on compensation to individuals only.

First Published: Dec 02, 2014 15:52 IST