New Delhi (AFP) Dec 4, 2010
Indian activists battling for more money for victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy dismissed Saturday a government legal suit for more than a billion dollars in extra compensation.
The government filed Friday a petition in the Supreme Court for 1.2 billion dollars more money for the victims of the gas leak at the plant owned by US company Union Carbide which killed thousands of people.
"There is no way the government can enforce this petition. This is not a sincere effort by the government to get the victims more money," said Rachna Dhingra, spokeswoman for the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
The government names two US companies in its petition: Union Carbide, which owned the plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal, and Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 1999.
The petition came after the government last year promised to look into how to retroactively increase the amount of compensation paid out for the accident, which was set at 470 million dollars in a settlement reached in 1989.
Dow Chemical could not be reached for comment Saturday, but has maintained that all of Union Carbide's liabilities were settled in the 1989 agreement.
Dhingra noted that Union Carbide no longer owns property in India and so the company cannot be obliged to appear in court.
"What magic is going to produce the company (Union Carbide) in court?" she said in an interview with AFP.
As well as naming the US-based groups, the government also cites the Indian company which bought out Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary in 1994 and re-named it Eveready.
The disaster occurred on December 3, 1984 when a storage tank at the Union Carbide India Ltd. pesticide plant spewed deadly cyanide gas into the air and surrounding slums.
Government figures initially put the death tollfrom 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.
The government's petition said the accident had caused "undeserved suffering" to "thousands of innocent citizens" and was a tragedy "unparalleled in human history."
It also raised its estimate for the number of deaths in the immediate aftermath to 5,295.
Dhingra said the petition was "just window-dressing on the part of the government."
Balkrishna Namdeo, another activist for Bhopal victims, said the victims deserved much more compensation, but held out little hope the government would succeed.
More money is still urgently needed to treat victims of the tragedy as well children who are still being born with birth defects such as cerebral palsy and blindness as a result of the disaster, activists said.
"The legacy of this tragedy is still being felt. There is no closure," said Tarun Thomas, of the Chingari Trust, a rehabilitation group, which works with the children disabled by the disaster.
"Children are still being born with defects, people are still dying untimely deaths," he said.
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