'Criminal Negligence': 12 of 14 Who Died of Covid-19 in Bhopal Were Survivors of 1984 Gas Tragedy

Bhopal: Claiming that a dozen survivors of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy have succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, some organisations have blamed the state and central government for the tragedy.

Members of these oganisations said at least 12 of the 14 COVID-19 victims in Bhopal so far are survivors of the Union Carbide gas tragedy, adding that nothing was done by the authorities despite warnings and seeking advance arrangements for the victims amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

“On March 21, organisations working among the survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster had written to several state and central government officials and submitted data which shows that gas victims are five times more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population. They sought urgent intervention towards providing essential services of testing and critical care to the gas-affected population in view of the pandemic,” a welfare worker said on Wednesday.

Rashida Bee of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmchari Sangh, said the 12 untimely deaths of the gas tragedy survivors was due to the criminal negligence of the governments at the state and Centre as special attention was not paid to their medical needs.

Volunteers said an analysis shows all of them were men who had survived the gas tragedy and needed chronic care for their lung, heart and kidney ailments, adding that 95% of them were above the age of 55 years.

Of the 12 deceased, four died outside the gates of the hospital, seven died within 24 hours of admission and only two got prolonged care, which is a clear indication that lack of prompt care was one of the reasons of their deaths, an activist said.

None of the deceased’s family members have been given any medical record or reports of their samples testing positive for the virus. All them died in government hospitals which barely has the infrastructure to take care of so many critical cases, the volunteers alleged.

Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action said an analysis of the deaths and concrete suggestions was provided to officials of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Indian Council of Medical Research, state health commissioner and the collector of Bhopal to help them take corrective measures for future.

“However, it looks like even this letter has met the same fate as the earlier one,” Dhingra said.

The Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee took cognisance of the letter dated April 23 written by survivor organisations and asked ICMR, Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (BMHRC) and National Institute for Research on Environmental Health (NIREH) and Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief & Rehabilitation to ensure COVID-19 testing of all gas victims in view of their vulnerability.

It also asked all the three agencies to provide super-speciality treatment to the gas victims and directed NIREH to carry out COVID-19 testing as they have all the relevant infrastructure.

NIREH, whose mandate is to carry out research on morbidities and long-term impact of exposure-related illnesses, has a list of those who are most vulnerable to the virus, i.e. persons above 60 years and with co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, COPD, heart and kidney problems and cancer in the gas-exposed population. However, in the last one month, the institute has not taken any initiative in screening or testing of the gas victims.

“This is simple dereliction of duty,” said Nousheen Khan, a member of Children Against Dow-Carbide.

To add insult to injury, the administration in Bhopal had taken over the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC), a dedicated hospital for 1984 victims, for treatment of coronavirus, and it was only after the survivors moved the high court, that the hospital was de-notified and restored to its old status.

Besides 14 mortalities, Bhopal has so far seen 495 cases of coronavirus.