Madhya Pradesh government was gracious enough to appreciate Abdul Jabbar’s work among the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy after his death and confer on him posthumously the State’s highest Award, the Indira Gandhi Award for Social Service. There was, however, little grace in the manner in which the Award was presented.
The Award carries a citation and Rs 10 lakh in cash. The State government organised a function on November 17 at Bhopal’s historic Minto Hall to mark the completion of one year of Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was the chief guest, released the State government’s “Vision to Delivery Roadmap 2020-2025”, outlining the government’s agenda for next five years. After that the former Prime Minister presented the citation and the cheque to the late Jabbar’s widow, Sayra Bano, and that was all. Neither the citation was read out nor did Chief Minister Kamal Nath nor Manmohan Singh even mention Jabbar’s name in their speeches, leave aside their saying a few words about Jabbar’s excellent work.
Manmohan Singh had apparently always had an apathy towards Bhopal Gas victims. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had in January 1992 constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Manmohan Singh (then Finance Minister) to ensure implementation of the Supreme Court order of October 1991 which related to disbursal of compensation out of the settlement fund and insuring children born just before or immediately after the gas leak tragedy.
Conferment of the Award on Jabbar posthumously has made Jabbar’s friends wondering how he would have reacted if he were alive. The NDTV had honoured Jabbar’s Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan with the Indian of the Year 2009 “Unsung Hero” Award in February 2010. Jabbar received the Award from Amitabh Bachan at a glittering function in New Delhi. He, however, did not feel elated.
It was also mandated to frame guidelines for disbursement of the compensation; besides, the GoM was asked to redress the grievances of the survivors’ wherever these arose. . The GoM also comprised Arjun Singh (Human Resource Development Minister), Vijay Bhaskar Reddy (Law), and Chinta Mohan, (Minister of State for Fertiliser and Chemicals). Manmohan Singh and his colleagues in the GoM never took any interest in the matter, though there were complaints galore about the mismanagement and corruption in disbursement of the compensation. Not even a single child was insured, in pursuant to the Supreme Court directive. It was said at the time that the mention of Bhopal gas soured the taste in Manmohan Singh’s mouth.
Conferment of the Award on Jabbar posthumously has made Jabbar’s friends wondering how he would have reacted if he were alive. The NDTV had honoured Jabbar’s Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan with the Indian of the Year 2009 “Unsung Hero” Award in February 2010. Jabbar received the Award from Amitabh Bachan at a glittering function in New Delhi. He, however, did not feel elated. Rather, he felt more gratified with the honour he had received from a little known Maharashtra organisation, called “Kusumagraja Sansthan”, of Nasik. He received the “Lokseva Puraskar” (public service award) from Sansthan president and noted film director Dr Jabbar Patel. Jabbar’s pleasure, he had told me, came from the fact that the compact audience drawn from different walks of life questioned him keenly on the conditions of the gas victims and the work his organisation was doing.
Later on, “MP Foundation”, an elite organisation managed by noted advocate Vivek Tankha, invited Jabbar to its function in New Delhi to honour him for his services to the gas victims but with the rider that Jabbar would not speak at the function. Jabbar declined the invitation.