The government of India has filed a petition with that country’s Supreme Court on the 26th anniversary of Union Carbide’s Bhodal gas disaster, seeking to more than double the compensation in the case to $1.1 billion dollars.
The compensation had initially been set at $470 million in a 1989 settlement, but the new petition emphasizes that initial estimates of the number of dead and injured were inadequate and that “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.”
During a memorial ceremony on Friday, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari stated, “The tragedy still haunts us in the form of incapacitated people and children born with deformities. It was indeed a human tragedy of unparalleled magnitude, which shocked the conscience of the world.”
Dow Chemical, which acquired Union Carbide in 1999, has argued that the 1989 agreement provided a complete settlement of that company’s liabilities. An attempt by the Indian government to reopen the case in 1991 was rejected, as have been its repeated requests for the extradition of former Union Carbide head Warren Anderson by the United States.
According to an email sent by the director of the Union Carbide Information Center in Houston, “Any effort to reopen the 1989 Bhopal settlement agreement, which twice has been reexamined, upheld and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of India in 1991 and most recently in 2007, is a misguided effort that will only demonstrate India’s willingness to put fundamental rules of justice at risk,”
The Bhopal disaster, known as the world’s worst industrial catastrophe, occurred on December 3, 1984, when a leak at a pesticide plant caused hundreds of thousands of people to be exposed to toxic fumes. Union Carbide estimated that 3,800 people had died, but a study by Amnesty International arrived at a figure of 7,000 deaths within days and another 15,000 since. Some victims’ rights groups put the total as high as 25,000.
Officials and victims groups say that 800,000 people continue to suffer from after-effects of the poisonous fumes, that the soil and groundwater remain contaminated, and that even the amount now being demanded is insufficient. The current petition targets Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, and the firm which owns Union Carbide’s former Indian subsidiary.