The Madhya Pradesh government on Tuesday announced that it will provide an allowance of Rs 1,000 every month to widows of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims.

More than 15,000 people are estimated to have died over the years due to the 1984 gas leak.

“This is in addition to the social security pension for the surviving widows of the Bhopal gas leak victims,” state Home Minister Narottam Mishra told reporters. He said that the decision was taken despite objections from the state’s finance department.

Mishra also claimed that the previous Kamal Nath-led Congress government had stopped the additional pension in 2019. He said the earlier Bharatiya Janata Party government had initiated the scheme in 2013 and the present Shivraj Singh Chouhan government decided to resume it.

However, reports suggest that the scheme was discontinued once even during the previous BJP regime, before Nath became the chief minister in December 2018. More than 5,000 women come under the ambit of the scheme.

The scheme was first approved by the erstwhile Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre in 2010, according to NDTV. The expense was borne both by the central (75%) and state government (25%).

The Centre had then provided Rs 35 crore to the Bhopal district magistrate for the purpose. However, the scheme was discontinued between April 2016 and November 2017 and then revived in December 2017, the news channel reported. The BJP was in power in the state during this period.

The Congress government once again stopped the scheme in December 2019, a year after it came to power.

Rachna Dhingra, a member of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, a non-government organisation working for survivors of the tragedy, welcomed the announcement made on Tuesday. She said the widows have not received allowances since December 2019 and demanded that the arrears are paid immediately, PTI reported.

Bhopal gas tragedy

In December 1984, methyl isocyanate and other toxic gases leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited, then located on the outskirts of the state capital Bhopal.

More than five lakh people were exposed to the toxic gases and at least 4,000 were killed in the following days. Thousands more died due to the effects of the gas leak in subsequent years. Government figures estimate that there have been 15,000 deaths as a result of the disaster over the years.

Survivors have increased rates of cancer and birth defects, and suffer from a compromised immune system.

In April 2019, the International Labour Organization listed the Bhopal gas tragedy among the world’s major industrial accidents in the last century.