Nearly 4,500 Bhopal Gas-hit victim widows are reportedly on the verge of starvation as the state government—earlier led by Congress and now by BJP—has discontinued their pension for the past eight months. The situation has not changed even after the Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led BJP government came to power in the state in March, despite the saffron party's earlier promises.
The victims used to draw Rs 1,000 every month from the Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department under social rehabilitation for the gas-hit victims. The pension scheme was started in May 2011 after the Union government released Rs 30 crore for the scheme.
Demanding resumption of their pension, a small group of widows held a protest near the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s house under the banner of Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha on July 17.
The sexagenarian widows claimed that the pension is their only lifeline for survival as they can’t work due to age and diseases. Most of the widows are suffering from diseases due to exposure to toxic Methyl Isocyanide on December 2-3, 1984.
“I’m suffering from a lung infection and have been under constant treatment for decades. I used to stitch clothes, but now I can’t work. The pension and monthly ration is the only hope of survival, but I haven’t received any money from December 2019,” said 65-year-old Savitri Bai.
In 2010, CM Chouhan and in 2018, Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vishwas Sarang, months before the Assembly election, had promised that the pension will continue for life. However, it has been discontinued, claimed 67-year-old gas-hit victim Indira.
“We are somehow managing to survive, I don’t think I will last for long,” she added.
While the president of Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Balkrishan Namdeo claimed that the BJP-led state government is not paying any heed to the ordeal of gas-hit widows in the middle of the pandemic when the governments are extending financial aid and supplying free food,
“Many widows are on the verge of starvation as they have no one to financially support them. They can’t work. But, instead of supporting them in such difficult times, the government has discontinued the pension,” said Namdeo.
“We handed over a memorandum to the private secretary of CM Chouhan, Santosh Kumar Sharma. He assured us to pass our demands on to the CM,” he added.
Between 2016 to 2017 as well, the Department had discontinued the pension for nearly a year, but after a protest, it was resumed.
When contacted, Director of Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department Basant Kurre said, “The pension scheme was for five years. But it was extended for two more years.” He added that the funds have dried up. “We are preparing a proposal and will send it to the CM for approval. If CM approves and allocates a fund, we will resume it.”
The Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department Minister Vishwas Sarang hasn’t responded to the calls despite several attempts.