Krishnadas Rajagopal : Indian Express
Bhopal Gas tragedy, victims, tax-payer’s burden
New Delhi:Saturday , Jan 09, 2010: Saying its continued existence is a burden on the tax-payer, the Office of the Welfare Commissioner—a group of four judges in Madhya Pradesh deputed to disburse pro-rata compensation to Bhopal Gas tragedy victims—has sought the Supreme Court’s permission to wind up.
Supreme Court counsel for the Office of the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal Gas Victims—the nodal judicial agency set up by the government to hear and decide victims’ claims for compensation—Wasim A Qadri told Indian Express on Friday that the Commission has spent, between January and September 2009, more than seven times the amount of compensation disbursed on its own “establishment expenditure.”
He said the exchequer spent Rs 346.17 lakh between January and September 2009 on the Commission, which could decide only 161 cases during the period. The amount of compensation paid in the 161 cases is Rs 46.98 lakh.
“In short, in those nine months the government spent seven times more than the actual compensation for just maintaining the commission,” Qadri, who is also a senior counsel for the Centre, said on Friday.
He says the anxiety level within the commission is so high that it wants to close the remaining 11,820 cases of pro-rata compensation, pending as of September 30, 2009.
“Fake persons are taking advantage in the left-over cases. We should be permitted by the Supreme Court to close these cases as no original claimants are coming forward. We are now spending crores of public money dealing with fraudsters,” Qadri said. Attempts have been on to trace “absentee claimants” through NGOs, newspaper ads and through electronic media since 2006 has hardly worked out, but instead invited in many fake claimants, he said.
“One of the fake claimants suffered a prick of conscience after he returned from a Haj pilgrimage. He returned his Rs 31,000 (the minimum amount of compensation given to victims) compensation on the promise that we do not take any action against him. Many others like him followed. At the end we got back Rs 64 lakh from fake claimants. This opened our eyes,” Qadri said.
The Centre had said that it had Rs 1,503.01 crore available with the Reserve Bank of India as of 2006 for disbursement as compensation. “We request the court to wind up the commission and save the public exchequer from massive and unnecessary expenses incurred by the government to keep our office establishments alive. Winding us up would end this racket of false claimants who are trying to deceive us. It is not financially viable to have full-time judicial look after this work,” he said.
A random scrutiny of the claim papers saw 146 FIRs lodged in various police stations of Bhopal city between April 2008 and September 2009 against fake claimants on the instance of the Welfare Commissioners, he said.
Sixty-seven FIRs were lodged in the month of February 2009 against persons who managed to hoodwink the commission to get the compensation amounts, he adds. The Commission unearthed 26 fake death certificates and spent Rs 7.75 crore as its annual budget in the year 2008-2009.
The Commission comprises one Additional District Judge on deputation as Additional Welfare Commissioner. Local Judicial First Class Magistrates fill up the posts of Deputy Welfare Commissioners.
The Commission is ready with an alternative cost-cutting proposal. It says that one judicial officer designated by the Madhya Pradesh High Court is enough to hear the remaining pending cases. The expenses can be paid by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers. A retired district cadre judge can also be roped in to take care of the administrative work.
“Anyway, genuine compensation claims have been dwindling since 2008. It is in public cause we want the Supreme Court to permit us to close shop,” Qadri said.
The nation just observed the 25th anniversary of the industrial catastrophe on December 3, 1984. Lethal methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins leaked from a Union Carbide India Limited plant in Bhopal killed 3,787 people and affected over 500,000. The Bhopal gas tragedy case came up for hearing today in the CJI’s court.