The Indian government has approved a host of new measures to help tens of thousands of victims of a toxic gas leak from a Union Carbide plant in the city of Bhopal in 1984. The deadly leak has killed an estimated 20,000 people since it took place.
The new measures approved by India's federal Cabinet include doubling compensation to about $22,000 for the families of those who died due to a toxic gas leak from a Union Carbide plant 26 years ago in Bhopal. Those who were disabled or became sick also will get enhanced compensation.
The government says it also will improve medical facilities for the tens of thousands of people still coping with the after effects of the gas leak. Additionally, it is promising to clean up by 2012 the toxic waste still lying at the abandoned site of the plant.
The measures were recommended by a group of ministers established following an outcry over two-year prison terms handed out to seven Indian managers of Union Carbide earlier this month in connection with the industrial accident. Not only were the sentences seen as relatively light for a disaster that affected tens of thousands, there also was resentment that no one in the American corporation had been held accountable.
Information Minister Ambika Soni says the government will make renewed efforts for the extradition of Warren Anderson, who headed Union Carbide when the gas leak took place. He faces charges in India, but the U.S. government has previously turned down a request for his extradition.
"Additional material in support of the request for extradition of Warren Anderson will be put together by concerned agencies and the ministry of external affairs will thereafter press the request for extradition with the U.S. government," says Soni.
The government plans to petition the Supreme Court to reconsider the charges brought against Anderson and the Indian managers of Union Carbide. There have been many questions raised as to why the charges against them had been reduced from culpable homicide to criminal negligence, which attract a lighter sentence.
The government says it also will explore the possibility of getting more compensation from Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide. Dow Chemical has already rejected any liability, saying that Union Carbide had settled all claims with a payment of $470 million to the Indian government in 1989.
Groups and activists who have long demanded that the government do more to help the victims of the Bhopal disaster said the new action being planned by the government is welcome, but still not enough to address the needs of those who have suffered for years.