The Indian Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh [official website] apologized Saturday for the government's role in the 2008 disposal of toxic waste from the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder], which he said was done secretly and in an improper manner. Bhopal victims groups and citizens living near the town of Pithampur, where the disposal occurred, have expressed concern [IANS report] that the improper disposal could have an impact on the environment and health of those living in the region and have called for it to be removed immediately. Nearly 350 tonnes of waste were collected following the disaster in which 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 [corporate website] subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled. The government reportedly removed 40 tonnes of the waste [AFP report] to Pithampur for disposal, but failed to consider the environmental impact or notify the public about the disposal. Last month, a panel of Indian cabinet ministers announced the government would begin the process of cleaning up the disaster site [JURIST report] and would consider increasing compensation for victims of the disaster. Ramesh has promised that all further cleanup of the Bhopal site will be done in a transparent manner so the government can be held accountable.
Last month, an Indian court handed down the first convictions [JURIST report] related to the disaster, sentencing seven men to two years in prison as well as fines for their roles in the disaster. Union Carbide and the Indian government reached a settlement as to corporate liability in 1989 with the company paying USD $470 million to end its liability. The Indian government, however, has indicated it would be 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. 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 USD $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.