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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 02:57 GMT
Forgotten hero of Bhopal's tragedy
By Faisal Mohammad Ali
BBC Hindi service, in Bhopal

Bhopal deputy station superintendent Ghulam Dastagir
Mr Dastagir's actions may have saved hundreds of lives
Twenty years after the toxic gas leak at Bhopal in central India, BBC News reports on how casualties could have been much worse.

The daily express had been seen off from Bhopal and deputy station superintendent Ghulam Dastagir took charge of the night shift.

He settled down to a routine evening's work. It was 3 December, 1984.

Paperwork kept Mr Dastagir tied to his office until 0100 when he emerged to check the train running from Mumbai (Bombay) to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.

As he stepped on to the platform, he felt an itch in his throat and a burning sensation in his eyes.

Toxic fumes leaking from the nearby Union Carbide factory were settling on the railway station.

Nearly 3,000 people died on the night of the disaster. There have been at least 15,000 related deaths since, according to official estimates.

Full responsibility

Mr Dastagir did not fully fathom the situation but years of training on the busy railways told him something was clearly wrong.

Moving quickly, he summoned his staff and told them to clear the Gorakhpur train for departure.

Bhopal station
People were throwing up, some were down with diarrhoea... Many were choking
Manzoor Ahmed Khan

It was filling with Bhopal passengers already fleeing the fumes.

The scheduled departure of the train was still 20 minutes away and he was advised to check with his superiors.

But Mr Dastagir said he could not risk even a minute's delay

He said he would take full responsibility for the early departure. His action may have saved hundreds of lives.

Manzoor Ahmed Khan - Mr Dastagir's colleague - says the station officer's next task was to ensure that no other train came into the station.

Even though thousands of people were descending on the station desperate to leave the city, passengers on incoming trains would be contaminated.

Mr Dastagir rushed to the control room and alerted senior railway officers. They immediately suspended services.

Instead of an escape route the station became a scene of "misery and death all around", says Mr Khan.

"No other mode of transport was available," he says.

"There was no bus, taxi or rickshaw. Panic-stricken people were coming in hordes to the railway station."

SOS call

Mr Khan had never seen such a scene.

"People were throwing up, some were down with diarrhoea, relieving themselves wherever they could. Many were choking," Mr Khan says.

The station plaque - minus Mr Dastagir

He says he reached the station with his elderly parents, wife, sons and daughters around three in the morning.

They "just wanted to go anywhere out of the city".

He says he saw Mr Dastagir running from one platform to another, attending and consoling victims.

Mr Dastagir sent an SOS to all the nearby stations. Four ambulances arrived with paramedics and railway doctors soon joined them.

The station resembled the emergency room of a large hospital.

The burning and itching Mr Dastagir had felt became worse, but he ignored it.

He also had no time to think of his own family - his wife and four sons - who were living in the old city which was severely exposed to the gas.

"I knew him always being like that," says Fehmida, his wife.

"Once there was an accident and he didn't come home for three days," she said.


Ghulam Dastagir died a year ago.

His last 19 years were spent mostly in hospitals. He developed a painful growth in the throat due to exposure to toxic fumes.

One of his sons died soon after the fumes were released. Another suffers a severe skin infection.

Mr Dastagir's wife says his actions have gone unrecognised. The railways did not reward him for his sense of duty and commitment to helping suffering victims, she says.

The railways installed a plaque in memory of those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty on the fateful night of 3 December, 1984. Ghulam Dastagir is not on the list.

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