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India to consider further penalties related to Bhopal gas incident

A panel of Indian Cabinet ministers on Monday recommended that the government consider increasing compensation for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder]. The panel also indicated it will seek extradition of Warren Anderson, the former chairman of US chemical producer Union Carbide [corporate website], the company responsible for the spill. Members of the panel announced that all issues relation to the Bhopal disaster, including compensation, legal options and health related issues, were thoroughly discussed [Bloomberg report] and will be considered by the full Cabinet. The panel also announced that the government would begin the process of cleaning up the site of the disaster where nearly 3,800 people were killed when toxic gas was accidentally released in the middle of the night by a chemical plant owned by a Union Carbide subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled. A settlement was reached between Union Carbide and the Indian government in 1989 with the company paying $470 million to end its liability. The panel, however, indicated it was willing to revisit the settlement and possibly seek further compensation from Union Carbide. Dow Chemicals [corporate website], which purchased Union Carbide in 1999, contends that the settlement ended all possible claims against the company. The full Cabinet is expected to discuss the recommendations on Friday.

The recommendations come two weeks after the first convictions [JURIST report] related to the disaster were handed down by an Indian court. The 1984 Bhopal disaster caused an international outcry over the activities of Western chemical manufacturing in India and the developing world. A number of environmental groups, including Greenpeace [advocacy website], have called for Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals to be brought to justice [Greenpeace backgrounder] for the after-effects of the disaster. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] reinstated a water pollution lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by disaster victims against Union Carbide. In 2004, groups representing Bhopal victims appealed a $330 million award [JURIST report] issued by the Indian Supreme Court, arguing that the award should be quadrupled to provide enough compensation for each of the 572,173 people that the court ruled were eligible.

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