Latest update: 03/12/2010
Indian govt seeks billion-dollar compensation for Bhopal disaster
Coinciding with the 26th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, the Indian government is suing Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, two US companies implicated in the gas leak tragedy, for $1 billion.
By News Wires (text)
AFP - The Indian government is seeking to more than double the compensation paid by a US chemical company for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster to 1.1 billion dollars, a government lawyer said Friday.
The lawyer from the attorney general's office said the government had filed a case in the Supreme Court demanding compensation of 50 billion rupees (1.1 billion dollars).
Last year, the government said it would look into how to retroactively increase the amount of compensation paid for the accident, which was initially set at 470 million dollars in a settlement reached in 1989.
"This time we are seeking maximum compensation for the victims of the gas disaster," the lawyer said, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
His statements coincided with the 26th anniversary of the disaster.
"The Bhopal gas leak tragedy is unparalleled in human history. As such the relief and rehabilitation measures are of necessity undergoing constant review and change," the petition filed in the Supreme Court said.
"As time goes by more and more different aspects of the tragedy unfold and therefore the need for alleviating the misery of the people has to be considered on a continuing basis," the document said.
The government names two US companies in its court petition: Union Carbide, which owned the plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal, and Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 1999.
It also names the Indian company which bought out Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary in 1994.
Government figures put the death toll from the accident at 3,500 within three days of the leak, but the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) estimates the figure at between 8,000 and 10,000 during the same period.
The ICMR has said that by 1994 some 25,000 people had died from the consequences of gas exposure, and victims groups say many are still suffering the effects today.
Officials say about 800,000 people still suffer from various after-effects of inhaling the poisonous fumes.
Bhopal activists said that even if India won the increased compensation, it would be insufficient.
"There is no new magic in this petition," Rachna Dhingra, spokeswoman for the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, told AFP.
"The compensation is not enough as there are thousands of victims and their families," she said.
The bid for increased competition came as pressure groups in Bhopal fighting for the more benefits for survivors burnt effigies of Warren Anderson, the then Union Carbide chief.
India has repeatedly asked for the extradition of Anderson, now nearly 90, who is believed to live in New York state.
The abandoned old factory still stands on its site and the ground water and earth remain contaminated.
The lawyer said extra compensation was being sought because the death toll was underestimated in the 1989 compensation settlement and the clean-up had still not been completed.
He also said the government would not use taxpayers' money to pay compensation for an accident caused by a private company.
Dow Chemical insists that all of Union Carbide's liabilities were settled in the agreement reached in 1989.
The government asked the Supreme Court to review the package in 1991, but this was rejected. Friday's petition seeks another review by the court.