India claims further £1bn for Bhopal victims

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The Independent Online

The Indian government has demanded £1billion additional compensation for the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster, a gas leak at a pesticide plant that killed thousands of people in 1984.

Victims and activists have for years campaigned for more money and more severe punishment for those they hold responsible for the accident in the city of Bhopal at a plant owned by the US company Union Carbide.

The New Delhi government filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court yesterday to coincide with the anniversary of the deaths, an occasion which prompted victims and their families to take their protests onto the streets, an annual event.

The petition demanded an additional $1.24 billion payment and raised the estimate of the deaths from 3,000 to 5,295, according to a report in the Hindu newspaper. The government said a review had found the calculation of earlier compensation payments to be "completely incorrect".

Rachna Dhingra, a Bhopal activist, told Reuters the petition was largely symbolic and was unlikely to succeed given that, as Union Carbide no longer owns property in India, it cannot be held to account by the court.

"I don't know what new magic the government of India is going to use to enforce this petition," Dhingra said by phone.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has set up a ministerial panel in response to public anger over what is a perceived to be a lenient verdict handed to seven Indian former employees of Union Carbide in June. The panel has demanded the extradition of a US-based former chairman of the firm.

Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemical , which denies any responsibility. Dow Chemical said it bought Union Carbide a decade after it had settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million (£400m) for the victims.

In the early hours of 3 December 1984, around 40 metric tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked into the atmosphere and was carried by the wind to the surrounding slums.

Activists say 25,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in ensuing years, and about 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer today from ailments that range from cancer, blindness to birth defects.

A previous extradition request for Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide when the accident occurred, was turned by the United States, but the government panel has recommended that efforts be made to revive extradition proceedings against him.

Anderson has been classified as an absconder in the case by an Indian court.