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India government approves additional compensation for Bhopal gas victims

The Indian government announced Thursday that it has authorized additional compensation for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder]. The new package includes USD $15.8 million [Reuters report], adding to the original disbursement in June of USD $148 million. The compensation was approved after the government faced criticism for perceived leniency in the sentencing of seven men convicted [JURIST report] in June on charges of "death by negligence." The men were sentenced to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay USD $2,100. The convictions were the first related to the Bhopal 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 Indian Supreme Court [official website] announced in August that it will reconsider a ruling [JURIST report] allowing the men to be charged with negligence instead of culpable homicide. If the convictions are overturned and the men tried on charges of culpable homicide, they could face sentences of up to 10 years in prison. In July, the government apologized for improperly dumping waste [JURIST report] related to the incident The apology came one month after cabinet ministers announced the government would consider increasing compensation for victims of the disaster and seek the extradition [JURIST report] of the former chairman of Union Carbide so he could stand trial in India. A settlement was reached between Union Carbide and the Indian government in 1989 with the company paying $470 million to end its liability. The cabinet members, however, indicated the government 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.

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