Armed With RTI, 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy Survivors Accuse Centre, State of Colluding With Union Carbide
Activists and survivors of the 1984 disaster questioned the flaws in the study conducted on children of women exposed to the gas.
Protest against Dow Chemicals. (Reuters)
Bhopal: Ahead of the 35th anniversary of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the survivors campaigning for justice accused the Centre and state government of colluding with Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals.
To support their charge, the organisations presented documents obtained under RTI on the suppression of findings of a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that could be used to substantiate the curative petition for additional compensation for the disaster.
“The documents we have obtained from NIREH (National Institute for Research on Environmental Health) this year show that its parent organisation, ICMR, decided to not publish the results of a study that found birth defects in babies of mothers exposed the gas to be several times higher compared to those of non-exposed mothers,” said Rachna Dhingra, a member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
As per the documents, principal investigator Dr Ruma Galgalekar found that 9% of the 1,048 babies born to gas-exposed mothers had congenital malformations while in 1,247 babies born to unexposed mothers, only 1.3% had congenital malformations. The study costing little over Rs 48 lakh was carried out from January 2016 to June 2017 following approval by three successive meetings of the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) from December 2014 to January 2017.
The documents further show that when the findings of the study were presented at the 7th SAC meeting in December 2017, “members expressed concern on the high incidence of malformed children recorded in the present study and raised several queries related to quality control of data”. Following this, it was decided that an expert group would review the data.
As per the minutes of the expert group’s meeting on April 4, 2018, the group “strongly recommended that this data, due to its inherent flaws, should not be put in public domain and shared at any platform”. According to the four experts, the “inherent flaws” of the study were “various methodological issues, problems of invalidated data and outcome assessment bias”. At the 8th SAC meeting in October 2018, the members agreed that “as the said project had flaws… the results are erroneous and thus should not be brought in the public domain”.
The survivors alleged that the documents on the impact on next generation of survivors made them “lose faith in our scientists and scientific institutions”. “If the study design was indeed flawed, how was it approved at three successive meetings over two years? If indeed mistakes have been made, why hide them from people? And why has there been no fresh proposal to do the study properly?” they asked.
Citing another RTI document, another activist said it was ironic that six months after this quiet burial of the data, at a meeting on the curative petition for enhancement of compensation for disaster victims in New Delhi, the Supreme Court advocate arguing for the petition specifically sought “corroborative evidence like data on effect of Bhopal gas leak disaster on offspring of Gas Victims”.
“In the documents we have got on research on birth defects, there is no mention of what was done to help the 110 babies who were found to have birth defects. We have other documents that show that back in 1994-95, over 70,000 children in gas-affected areas were examined and 2,435 of them were identified with congenital heart disorders alone. Records show that only 18 of these children got help from the state government, what happened to the rest? The ICMR and the state government must answer these questions,” said Dhingra.
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