December 3, 2014 1:16:01 am
Thirty years on, the quest for justice and rightful compensation continues for survivors of the Bhopal gas leak that killed thousands of people and left lakhs maimed.
From a lower court in Bhopal to the Supreme Court, several petitions are pending for bringing to justice the alleged perpetrators of one of history’s worst industrial disasters, for enhanced compensation, and for environmental remediation around the plant site.
The government has paid Rs 3,842 crore as compensation for 5.74 lakh victims, but this came from an amount settled with Union Carbide in 1989.
Following a revised estimate of casualties, and an enhancement of compensation rates by a group of ministers in 2010, the government has filed for another Rs 7,786 crore in a curative petition that the Supreme Court has admitted but is yet to hear.
The settlement was for $470 million, which worked out to Rs 3,097 crore by the time it was distributed, with government ex gratia making up the rest.
This was based on an original estimate of 3,000 deaths, which has since risen to 5,295 with more claims being filed, besides 20,000 cases of temporary disability and 50,000 of various other injuries, which the curative petition now puts respectively at 35,455 and over 5 lakh. Activists say even these figures are too low. A government source said only 42,000 of the victims have been paid the full, revised amount.
Prime accused Warren Anderson, then Union Carbide chairman, died in the US this year without having faced trial in India. He had been declared an absconder several times by the trial court but India never got the US to extradite him.
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A lower court in 2010 sentenced eight others accused. The two- year jail term for a tragedy that killed thousands contrasts with the US government’s claim for billions of
dollars following 11 deaths due to a British Petroleum oil spill in the Gu
lf of Mexico.
A curative petition filed by the government in the wake of the uproar against the two-year sentence was rejected by the Supreme Court. The accused, all of them Indians including industrialist Keshub Mahindra, got bail immediately and their appeal against the verdict is pending.
When US President Barack Obama visits India on Republic Day, activists plan to highlight the matter of compensation and the refusal of Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, to appear in the ongoing criminal case in Bhopal. A stay ordered by the MP High Court against summoning Dow was vacated in October 2012. Last month, the lower court again issued a notice asking Dow to send its representatives.
“Since Anderson died unpunished, the government should now move for extradition of John McDonald, secretary of Union Carbide, and not allow Dow to invest in the country unless it accepts liability in Bhopal,” said Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
Again, 350 tonnes waste lies in sealed sacks in the factory, the subject of dispute over who disposes of it, where, and who pays for it. Activists are also concerned about the clean-up of the site where thousands of tonnes of waste lies buried, a threat to groundwater.
“Governments have not attempted either to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the ramifications or to take necessary remedial measures. As a result, gas victims have had to wage a concerted struggle,” said Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.
“It’s time to give the victims and survivors the compensation they deserve. It’s time to clean up the site and the toxic waste,” said Amnesty International general secretary Salil Shetty.
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