On Its 35th Anniversary, Bhopal Gas Tragedy Survivors Still Struggle to Avail Medical Care

Bhopal: On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, leaders of four survivors’ organizations condemned the continued apathy of the governments at the Centre and the state towards medical, economic and social rehabilitation of the survivors.

The neglect of the survivors’ health condition is evident in the way the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (BMHRC) is run by the Department of Health Research, Government of India. Setting up of the hospital was mandated by the Supreme Court to provide advanced care victims of the gas tragedy.

Rashida Bee, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, said, “The long and painful sickness and recent death of Abdul Jabbar, leader of a survivors’ organization, exemplifies what almost every patient visiting the state and centre-run hospitals goes through.”

“Till today there is no evidence that the governments at the state and the Centre have learnt any lessons from Jabbarbhai’s suffering and untimely death,” she added.

Abdul Jabbar, who fought for the survivor’s right to medical care, died recently. In his last days he made several rounds of various hospitals.

For the last few years, the BMHRC’s departments of nephrology and surgical oncology remain closed and there are no specialists in neurology, pulmonary medicine, surgical gastroenterology and gastro medicine.

Moreover, for the last seven years, no research has been done in the hospital. Of the 16 new research projects listed by Indian Council of Medical Research, only three are related to the disaster, said survivors.

Citing the commendable work done by Professor Srinivasa Murthy, a Bhopal-based international expert on post-disaster mental health care, Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action commented on the utter lack of mental health care to the survivors of the disaster.

“The Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief & Rehabilitation of the state government runs six big hospitals with over 4,000 patients visiting every day. Five of these hospitals have not had a psychiatrist for the last 19 years,” she said. She said that only one hospital had a psychiatrist as a part time consultant for 12 hours a week, until he left last month.

Dhingra further explained that Professor Murthy who had found that 30 percent of the exposed population was mentally ill in 1985, discovered 25 years later that 80 percent had still not recovered. He observed that survivors in Latur, Chernobyl, Iraq and other places in the world had recovered within two to three years of the mass disaster.

“Documents we acquired through Right to Information show that of the Rs 104 crore allocated by the Centre for economic rehabilitation of the victims, Rs 18 crore have been lost to corruption and the remaining Rs 86 crore remains unutilized for the last nine years,” she added.

Thousands of survivors’ families are facing starvation due to lack of gainful employment. As many as 473 women widowed by the disaster have been denied monthly pension since 2018 citing lack of funds, according to Nousheen Khan, a volunteer at Children against Dow Carbide.

One of the most disastrous industrial accidents in the world, the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy completes 35 years on Tuesday. At least 25,000 were killed and over five lakh left chronically ill due to the impact of methyl isocyanate that leaked from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984.

The anniversary of the disaster will be marked by several protests and events on Tuesday.