It was a mere Rs 1,000 per head every month. But over 5,000 women who lost their husbands in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the world's worst industrial disasters, haven't been receiving even that meagre amount as subsistence pension since December 2019.
The pension, approved by a ministerial committee of the Centre in 2010, was jointly borne by the Union (75 per cent) and state governments (25 per cent). It started off with Rs 500 per month but was later hiked to Rs 1,000.
The Centre had provided Rs 35 crore to the Bhopal district magistrate for the purpose. Between April 2016 and November 2017, however, the state government stopped payments for no reason, only to revive it in December 2017.
It was stopped again in December 2019 by the Congress-led Kamal Nath government.
The BJP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan government doesn't seem to have taken any initiative either to revive payments.
"It was an insensitive decision because Congress only supported the rich...We are trying to start it (payments) soon," Vishwas Sarang, Madhya Pradesh Minister for Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation, had said last August. He repeated the promise in December 2020 and again in January 2021.
In March, he told NDTV that the state government had even made a budgetary provision and that the payments would begin again soon.
On December 3 last year, the 36th anniversary of the tragic accident, Chief Minister Chouhan said a memorial would be built to commemorate those who lost their lives. He also announced the resumption of the pension.
Nothing has happened yet.
Sixty-two-year-old Nanda Bai is one of the thousands who have been protesting over the pension stoppage. Having to take care of her son who met with an accident, the Rs 1,000 was a huge help. "I have nothing to look up to. My son met with an accident. I can't see properly. There is no work," she said.
Seventy-five-year-old Shakeela Bi said she hasn't been getting her monthly rations.
"These politicians make false promises. What to do? I have one meal a day. It's been almost two years, they have money for roads and fountains, not for poor people," she said.
Over 15,000 people were killed and more than five lakh people badly affected during the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, after deadly methyl isocyanate leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide on the city's outskirts.