File Image: A network of pipes rust at the abandoned former Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal. (Image Reuters)
After having pulled through one of the worst industrial accidents in the world, the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy are now living under the threat of contracting the novel coronavirus infection.
According to a report in The Times of India, all 10 coronavirus fatalities in Bhopal are gas tragedy survivors.
Coronavirus has killed 10 survivors in 18 days, and the community, consisting of 5.5 lakh gas tragedy survivors, are living in dread of what the virus can do to their already ravaged bodies.
The common vulnerabilities of those exposed to methyl isocynate gas include weakened immunity, damaged lungs and kidneys, diabetes and hypertension, plus poor finances. Add coronavirus to this, and it’s a disaster in the making.
On March 21, a day before the first case sprung up in Bhopal, four activist groups had written to the Union Health Minister as well as the Bhopal collector, requesting for more attention to the gas tragedy survivors as they are more vulnerable.
However, principal health secretary Pallavi Jain Govil converted the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) – a facility meant exclusively for gas victims – into a COVID-19 facility. Over the next three weeks, not a single patient, COVID-19 or otherwise, was admitted to BMHRC. By the time the state government realised their mistake, five gas tragedy survivors had died of coronavirus.
42-year-old Santosh, who is living on a donated kidney, told the newspaper, “I know I am vulnerable to any kind of infection. COVID terrifies me. The death of gas victims due to coronavirus has only added to our anxiety, but no one else seems to care. I had to run pillar to post to get medicines when BMHRC was taken over by the state government.”
Another 65-year-old lawyer, Praveen Kumar Malviya, gets teary-eyed as he recalls the December night in 1984 when the methyl isocynate gas leaked out of the union carbide plant and killed over 3,700 people. While talking of the “ill treatment” being meted out to gas victims, he told the paper, “I have respiratory trouble since my exposure to the gas. I have heard about coronavirus and its impact on lungs. But no one has bothered to guide me on what precautions gas victims should take.”