Less than a week before the 34th anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster, and on the eve of the 2018 Elections to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, extraordinary claims have been made about the misuse of funds by the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Minister. It is alleged that an RTI (Right to Information) petition revealed the Minister, Vishwas Sarang, to have misused up to 30 per cent of the funds allocated by the Government of India for the economical rehabilitation and construction of 2,500 homes of the gas victims living in the vicinity of the Union Carbide Factory.
Campaigners claim the RTI revealed that, in 2010, an amount of Rs. 272.75 crore (approx. £30million) was allocated from central government funds for the gas victims benefit but, even after seven years, the state government had only used Rs. 129.5 crore for the intended purpose, with over 50% of the remaining funds diverted to fund other schemes.
With an acrimonious response to the press conference alleging misuse of funds by the Minister, and BJP candidate, the returning officer of Narela assembly constituency in Bhopal, lodged a freedom of information request against three Bhopal Gas Disaster survivors organisations .
Satinath Sarangi of BGIA said that the FIR at Shyamla Hills Police Station is baseless and has been lodged with the sole purpose of stopping the Bhopal survivors’ organizations from exposing the misdeeds of Minister Vishwas Sarang.
Press release of survivor organisations alleging misuse of funds:
At a Press Conference today, leaders of four organisations of the survivors of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal charged Minister Vishwas Sarang of misusing funds meant for economic and social rehabilitation of the survivors. The organisations presented copies of documents obtained under right to information from the Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation that show that close to 60% of the funds meant for providing employment to survivors and their children have been diverted to build drains, roads and parks. Likewise, documents show that almost one third of the funds meant for housing of residents in the vicinity of the Union Carbide factory is also being
diverted for the same purpose.
President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Rashida Bee said “In 2010, 104 Crores were allocated to provide jobs to 1 lakh Bhopal survivors and their children. After failing to provide employment to even one survivor in the last 8 years, the Minister is now spending more than 60 Crores of the money meant for employment generation on public works that are routinely funded by taxpayers money.”
“All of the 75 Crores that the Minister has taken away from the funds meant for survivors is being spent in his own constituency. Survivors of the Bhopal disaster are being robbed to pay for the Minister’s vote gathering plans. To fuel the Minister’s ambitions, the plan to provide safe housing to families living in the contaminated area next to the Union Carbide factory has been abandoned.” said Nawab Khan, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha.
Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action expressed concern about the complicity of the central government in the misutilization and misappropriation of funds meant for Bhopal survivors. “In 2014 we sent hard evidence of misappropriation of Rs.18 Crores meant for economic rehabilitation of survivors to the CBI and to the Ministry of Chemicals that had provided the funds. No action has been taken against the known culprits till date. Documents show that in March this year the Ministry of Chemicals approved diverting of funds meant for survivors after objecting to it for three years.
“Documents we have got through RTI show that while hundreds of thousands of survivors of Bhopal await relief and rehabilitation, more than half of the funds allocated for their rehabilitation in 2010 remain unspent today. If the Minister was a school student like many of our members, he would have been kicked out for repeated failure.” said Nausheen Khan of the Children Against Dow Carbide.