We are starving, say ex-staff of Union Carbide

By Shahnawaz Akhtar, IANS
Thursday, December 23, 2010

BHOPAL - They are neither victims nor accused in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy and yet 632 former permanent employees of the now defunct Union Carbide plant find themselves at the receiving end.

They were employees at the plant, which saw the world’s worst industrial disaster break out on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, killing thousands of people. They complain of being driven to virtual starvation in the absence of any relief.

“Sometimes, I want to commit suicide, but seeing the face of my daughter and grandchildren I change my plan…,” Champalal Gupta, one of the former employees of the company, told IANS.

The employees, many of whom worked for over 15 years in the plant, have got no compensation from either their company after its unit was shut down or from the government. The plant was shut soon after the industrial disaster in 1984 and the staff was paid salaries for about six months.

“Till June 1985 we got salary. But thereafter we, along with 3,000 temporary employees, were given three months’ salary and terminated by the company,” said Gupta, who was an operator in the plant.

“When we were hired, in the service agreement it was mentioned that if the company would terminate us (permanent employees), we would get six years and three months’ salary,” he said.

Gupta and his colleagues filed a case in a labour court after their termination. In 1996-97, the court gave a decision in favour of the employees and told Union Carbide to give them six years and three months’ salary.

The company later moved an industrial court, where Gupta and others lost the case. In 2003, Gupta and his colleagues moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which is still hearing the case.

“The case is in the final stage, but we do not have money to pay fees to our lawyers and because of it the matter is pending,” Gupta said.

“We have already spent all our money in court hearings and there is no money left with us to feed ourselves. How can we give fees to lawyers?” asked Gupta.

He complained of the government not considering them for relief. “Even after working for 13-15 years in the plant, the government refused to treat us as gas victims and did not consider us for relief,” Gupta said.

Ironically, not too many know of their plight even as victims of the tragedy are still fighting for justice.

Another former permanent employee, Jagdish Sharma, told IANS: “Though we were permanent employees, the company cheated us by taking action under the provisions meant for dismissal of casual (temporary) employees.”

“We and our families have been suffering for two decades,” he added.

Forty tonnes of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas seeped out of the plant on the night of Dec 2-3. It killed 3,000 people instantly and 25,000 over the years. It also affected 100,000 people that night and estimates are more than 500,000 still continue to suffer in myriad ways.

(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at shahnawaz.a@ians.in)

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