On December 3, 2020 the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) demanded for action taken reports from the Ministry of Law and Justice and Government of Madhya Pradesh over information on pensions for widows of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims.
It took cognisance of the complaint filed by Hamida Bi, a resident of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh and an office-bearer of Bhopal Gas Peedith Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) which sought for payment of pension to the gas victim widows with arrears since the January, 2020 and pushing up the Curative Petition in the Supreme Court that has been pending for a decade, with NHRC’s intervention.
She said that the Union Cabinet on June 24, 2010 had approved recommendation of the Group of Ministers to provide pension to five thousand widows. Eventually, from Rs 500 per month, the amount was increased to Rs 1,000 per month by the Centre for which rupees thirty crores were allocated. NHRC mentioned that the total amount Rs. 25.43 crore was disbursed as pension to 4,995 beneficiaries till the year 2019-20, and that the remaining amount of Rs. 4.57 crore has been lying with the Central Government.
NHRC wrote about the plight of the widows who are now being deprived of the monetary funds. It took cognisance of the curative petition (No. 345-347 of 2010) which was filed by the Union for enhancing the settlement sum by an additional amount of Rs. 7,728/- crores that has long been pending before the top court. Thus, the widows of thousands of gas victims are forced to live in abysmal conditions, because of the inordinate delay in payment of additional compensation, the notice states.
Action Taken Report
The Commission through its proceedings dated August 7, 2020 had sought an action taken report from Secretary, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Government of India; Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India and the Chief Secretary, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal.
As per the directions of the Commission, a report dated September 9, 2020 had been submitted by the Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Government of India. NHRC stated that it was reported that with regard to the pension to the widows, a plan of action with total outlay of Rs. 982.75 crores were submitted by the State Government of Madhya Pradesh including the proposal for earmarking Rs. 30 crores for payment of pension at the rate of rupees one thousand per month for five thousand widows for five years, which formed part of ‘Social Rehabilitation Programme’.
Further, the NHRC explained the new action plan with financial implication of Rs. 272.75 crores were approved by the Union in June 2010 to be funded by the Centre to the extent of 75% which included payment of pension to the widows. Subsequently, the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, Government of India released an amount of Rs. 204.56 Crore (75%) in July towards 75% share of the Central Government with the remaining 25% to be funded by the State of Madhya Pradesh.
In the year 2016, Madhya Pradesh also sent a proposal for continuation of pension plan to widows of Bhopal gas victims under Social Rehabilitation Programme for further period of five years.
In so far as the issue of curative petition is concerned, the NHRC stated that based on the decision of the Union Cabinet, the said petition was filed by Union of India Vs. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA, Dow Chemical Company, USA, McLeod Russel India Ltd and Eveready Industries India Ltd. before the Supreme Court in 2010.
The case was listed for January 2020, which got further pushed to February 11, 2020 but was never listed for hearing. Henceforth, the complainant Hamida Bi, approached NHRC on August 4, 2020 requesting for restoration of pension to the widows of the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and enhancement of the same to meet their daily needs.
NHRC took note that after its proceedings on August 7, 2020, the action taken report has not been submitted by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Government of Madhya Pradesh.
The Commission has given the Centre and the Madhya Pradesh Government 4 weeks to file the report, failing which it shall invoke section 13 of The Protection of Human Rights Act that empowers it to carry out inquiries into complaints. The complaint has been listed to be heard on January 15, 2021.
The entire notice may be read here: