Supreme Court’s 2012 directions to digitise medical records of Bhopal gas victims not complied with; MP high court warns against contempt proceedings

ON January 3, a division bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, at Jabalpur, in a contempt petition hearing, issued a contempt warning to the National Informatics Centre (‘NIC’), Bhopal, for non-compliance with Supreme Court directions. The directions passed by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan & Ors. versus Union of India & Ors (2012), ordered for digitisation of medical information of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims. Subsequently, this was taken up by the Madhya Pradesh high court and a monitoring committee was set up. The task for computerisation was entrusted to the NIC, Bhopal.

However, in 2015, a contempt petition was filed by two survivors’ organisations, Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan and the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, in Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan & Ors versus Shri Rajesh Bhushan & Ors, against the non-compliance of the said directions.

The last report of the monitoring committee, filed in 2022, disclosed a number of deficiencies in compliance with regard to the directions contained in paragraph 35(9) of the 2012 Supreme Court order. According to it, only about 76,000 medical records had been digitised as against more than over 4 lakh registered gas victims to whom smart cards had been issued.

The directions under paragraph 35(9) were to operationalize medical surveillance, computerisation of medical information, and publication of ‘health booklets’, among other things, by the monitoring committee. As per the order, “The Monitoring Committee shall also ensure that the ‘health booklets’ and ‘smart cards’ are provided to each gas victim irrespective of where such victim is being treated. This direction shall apply to all the hospitals run by the Government or otherwise, in Bhopal.”

The division bench has granted two weeks’ time to file a reply. If the reply is not found satisfactory, contempt proceedings will be initiated against the current State Information Officer of NIC.

Speaking to The Leaflet, N.D. Jayaprakash, petitioner in person and co-convenor of Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, said: “This highlights the fact that maintenance of medical records of gas victims is in an extremely poor state. Since the same gas victims tend to visit different medical hospitals/clinics for treatment, the treating doctors do not have access to the past medical records of the victim, while theoretically, medical records of all of the nearly half a million gas victims were supposed to be computerized and networked by the various hospitals and clinics set up especially for treating gas victims. Therefore, in most cases, only symptomatic treatment is accorded to the gas victims, which results in improper treatment/misdiagnosis and in over-medication.”

Click here to view the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order.