Weeks after around four groups working for the victims of 1984 gas tragedy in Bhopal requested the Madhya Pradesh government to safeguard the survivors, the state has finally stepped in. However, at least 15 of the 17 people who had died of COVID-19 in Bhopal have so far been identified as the victims of the disaster that killed thousands and injured lakhs.
The government has decided to screen the vulnerable section among the survivors so that it could be isolated from others, a senior official said on Wednesday (May 6). The Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA), one of the four groups, has released the details of the 15 persons who have succumbed to the disease. But the government said it was not in a position to confirm this claim at this stage.
As soon as the outbreak was reported in the state, the groups had proposed an action plan to the government. Seeking the government to intervene in the crisis immediately, the groups suggested identification of the most vulnerable section of the gas-tragedy victims and special treatment for them at the Pulmonary Medicine Centre in Jehanagirabad.
Since the gases leaked from the Union Carbide’s plant had damaged the lungs of the victims, acute respiratory disorders are common among them, the groups had said in the action plan. The victims face a higher risk from the disease as they suffer from comorbidities like hypertension, muscle weakness, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and various forms of cancer.
With most victims of the gas tragedy being daily-wage labourers, they live in overcrowded localities. So, social distancing is almost impossible for them, the groups had said. Besides the door-to-door survey to identify infected people, the groups requested the government to provide the victims in isolation facilities and their family members with food.
As the death toll was increasing in Bhopal, the groups wrote to the government once again, reminding it about their suggestions. “We have decided to start screening those persons who are more vulnerable and have developed initial symptoms of COVID-19 so that they could be isolated and quarantined,” said Ved Prakash, the newly-appointed director of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation department.
“Once identified, they [survivors] would be isolated at Rasool Ahmed Pulmonary Medicine Centre, a facility of the Gas Relief Department. If they are found to be infected with coronavirus, they would be shifted to the dedicated COVID facility in Bhopal,” said Ved Prakash.
In the list of the 15 deceased persons, the BGIA has mentioned the health complications among them due to the inhalation of toxic plumes of Methyl Isocyanate that leaked from a plant on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984, killing thousands.
Authorities had failed to provide extra care to the gas-tragedy victims while converting the dedicated Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) into a state-level COVID-19 facility, and later reversed that status following the deaths of the gas-affected persons, said Rachna Dhingra of the BGIA.
The group has also claimed that of the 15 deaths due to COVID-19, ten were over 60 years of age, three were around 50 while the rest two were under 45 years of age. The youngest victim among them was a 39-year-old who had a history of hypertension and a 42-year-old cancer patient, it claimed. According to BGIA, all the 15 deceased had lived within a 4-km radius of the now-defunct plant.