Fate brought Satinath Sarangi to Bhopal during the 1984 gas tragedy. Satinath rushed to Bhopal hoping to help the survivors only for a week that has not ended yet. In the process, the activist who founded founded Zahareeli Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha (Poisonous Gas Episode Struggle Front), an organization of survivors of the disaster in Bhopal in 1986 and later Bhopal Group for Information and Action in 1992. In an interview with Shashikant Trivedi, Satinath, fondly called as Satyu, tells about how the situation has more or less remained the same. Excerpts:
How do you see the disaster when three decades have passed?
I came here two days after the disaster. I thought I would stay for a week only to help people and go back home. I reached Bhopal railway station but I was shocked to see the sufferers. It was heart-rending scene. I came in action by following those who were helping the injured. They were stopping any passing vehicle that can take the sufferers to hospital as soon as possible. And after thirty years I still see people are suffering at the same degree. They still do not have medical support. Many died without knowing what actually had happened to them.
Is it due to after effects of the disaster or mere negligence on the part of government?
It is another disaster, a second disaster which is continuing in Bhopal. We should not have been required here had had the governments worked properly for surviours of the disaster. If the government had attempted to bring Dow Chemical Company to clean-up the toxic wastes lying in Bhopal premises of closed entity of Union Carbide, sufferers could have breathed afresh.
There might have been no contamination. And sufferings of Bhopal might have come to an end. But they even failed to bring Anderson before justice. He remained absconding life-long. The survivours do not want government to dole out freebies. They want attention.
Does it mean the hospitals dedicated for Bhopal gas tragedy survivours are providing no medical facilities.
They are just helping in providing symptomatic relief. The treatments are limited to subside symptoms only. They have not done any study as to why children have birth defect and deformities even after three-decades or why people die at young age in gas-affected localities. It took them years to provide safe waters, but what about those who already have consumed the poisonous, contaminated water? They have acquired various diseases.
But people might have received treatment privately?
They have exhausted by all means. There are people who are broke now. And what are governments’ responsibilities? The central government has done no laps in sending money but how does that money should be spent was not monitored.
As a result the victims are getting only symptomatic treatment like psychopathic drugs, steroids etc. All these facts have been brought out by Supreme Court monitoring committees to the fore.
You run a clinic in gas-affected area. Do you receive cases of permanently injured people even today?
We only treat gas-affected people but we observe that children in age bracket of 0-12 have cerebral palsy, down syndrome; delayed development growth and girls have reported delayed menarche.
What needs to be done?
We are working sincerely on doing some research with our limited resources. But Dow should pay for environmental hazards; Union Carbide Secretary John McDonald should be brought to Bhopal court and pay for additional compensation for this second disaster which is clearly an after effect of the 1984 disaster.
The government must ensure that each and every victim should have sufficient medical support and dignified job in accordance with his physical capacities.
How do you treat people at your Sambhavana Clinic?
We are small in comparison to those dominating healthcare facilities but we have a team of medical professionals. Every day we see number of patients. We treat only those who are registered a gas-affected person till 1986.