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Centre ‘toed’ Union Carbide's line on Bhopal compensation

Bhopal, October 17
Just months after the 1984 gas leak at Union Carbide's plant here, the Centre had agreed to the "terms" set by the company on compensation to be paid to victims, a Right to Information (RTI) activist has claimed. Not only that, the government treated the world's worst industrial disaster as a "railway accident".

"We have obtained top secret documents dated February 28 and March 5, 1985, that show that Union Carbide was proposing a settlement within three months of the disaster," said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA).

According to documents accessed through the RTI Act, the deal was struck on February 28, 1985, between the then chemicals and fertilisers secretary and top Union Carbide functionary Rolf H Towe and its Indian subsidiary's managing director VP Gokhale.

"Union Carbide had proposed a payment of Rs 1 lakh for each death in 1985 and six years later, this is the amount the government actually paid the Bhopal victims," said Sarangi.

Ironically, Union Carbide had calculated the compensation on the basis of the Railway Act, which the government did not object to, thus equating the gas leak with a train accident, he said.

"Because of its collusion with the American company, the Indian government introduced injury categories and later paid the minimum amount of Rs 25,000 as compensation to 93 per cent of the victims with lifelong injuries by arbitrarily assigning them temporary injury category," he added.

On the intervening night of Dec 2-3, 1984, tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas had leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, leading to the death of 3,000 persons instantly and 25,000 over the years. Over 500,000 people have been affected so far.

Activists say even 26 years after the accident, the Centre's curative petition in the Supreme Court did not present the true picture of the horrors of the incident.

"On the basis of the figures published by the government's apex medical research organisation, the Indian Council of Medical Research, at least 20,000 people have died till 2009," said Balkrishna Namdeo of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha.

"ICMR's research shows that between 1984 and 1989, there were 3,500 spontaneous abortions as a result of gas exposure and these need to be included in counting disaster-related loss of life," he said.

Namdeo said in the curative petition filed in the apex court, the government has gone against the findings of its own research agency and presented a ridiculously low figure of 5,295 deaths.

Organisations working for Bhopal victims have demanded that in place of the current figure of Rs 3,000 crore to Rs 6,000 crore, the government should ask Union Carbide's current owner Dow Chemical to pay over Rs 37,000 crore for deaths and personal injuries. They said the government should seek at least Rs 6 lakh as compensation per victim. — IANS





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