Bhopal Gas victims now guinea pigs

23rd Feb 2011: The Times of India online

The Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) has pocketed over Rs 1 crore by allowing pharma companies to conduct clinical trials of drugs on its patients — victims of the gas disaster of 1984. Shockingly, out of the 7 trials carried out in the hospital since 2004, only one was inspected or monitored by the government watchdog Drug Controller General of India (DCGI). This was revealed in response to an RTI application filed with the DCGI by Hazra Bee of JP Nagar, Bhopal. Activists have been alleging that the hospital has been illegally carrying out drug trials but this is the first official confirmation of the fact.

This and several other instances of alleged corruption in the premier hospital were highlighted in a memorandum given to the V Narayana Sami, minister of state at the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi by a delegation of Bhopal activists led by Brinda Karat, MP. Delegation member Sadhna Karnik Pradhan said that the minister assured that he would personally visit the hospital and then announce whatever measures are to be taken.

As reported earlier in TOI, private patients were being treated at the hospital using the smart-cards and identities of genuine gas victims. One such patient, Pawan Kumar Sharma was shown in hospital records to have had an angioplasty done whereas he had no such procedure done on him.

According to the details given to the PMO, “private” (non-gas victim) patients are treated in the hospital for certain fees while gas victims are supposed to get free treatment. So, is it not good that revenues are being generated for helping the gas victims, a kind of cross subsidy? A look at how the money is spent answers this reasonable question. The money received as fees from private patients is distributed in the following manner: the hospital gets about 34%, the department fund and employees’ welfare fund get 8% each, and the balance 49% of the amount goes to consultants as their fees. In 2008-09, the consultants earned Rs 112 lakh, which went up to Rs 140 lakh in 2009-10.

Hospital staff also allege that there are huge scams in purchase of drugs and instruments. It is reported that since July 2010, Rs 5 crore worth of drugs and Rs 9 crore worth consumables have been purchased despite the hospital being now under the aegis of the department of atomic energy. The government had set up an empowered committee for the hospital headed by AP Joshi, additional secretary in DAE.

Meanwhile several hundred gas victims arrived in Delhi and held a dharna at Parliament to demand a CBI probe in the BMHRC functioning besides a fresh medical categorization in view of permanent disabilities suffered by over 5 lakh victims who still continue to be treated for the effects of the poisonous gas that escaped from the Union Carbide fertilizer factory on 2-3 December 1984.

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.