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Group of Ministers in India Reexamines Issues Related to Bhopal Gas Leak

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In India, a group of ministers is reexamining a range of issues related to the 1984 gas leak in the city of Bhopal, which has killed thousands of people.The panel of ministers was established after an outcry over what is perceived as inadequate justice and compensation for the victims of the world's worst industrial disaster.     

Home Minister P. Chidambaram says the mandate of the nine-member panel of ministers includes issues such as compensation for the victims of the gas leak, as well as legal and health matters related to the industrial disaster.

Three thousand-five hundred people died within days of inhaling the toxic gas that escaped from a Union Carbide plant in 1984 in the central Indian city of Bhopal. In the years since, tens of thousands have died, been disabled or afflicted with serious health problems.      

Chidambaram says the panel will consider, "in-depth," issues  such as relief, rehabilitation and remediation for these victims of the disaster.    

"We are looking into the number of people affected, number of claims that were accepted, claims that were categorized as death cases, as injury cases, and we will given our best and most sympathetic consideration to all these people who have suffered as a result of this tragedy," he said.

The panel of ministers held its first meeting on Friday. It will finalize its recommendations after holding a series of meetings over the weekend.

It is expected to recommend an additional package of millions of dollars for the victims and a thorough clean-up of the site.

The group was formed last week after a local court handed down two-year prison sentences to seven managers of Union Carbide in connection with the gas leak.

The judgment, delivered 25 years after the disaster, sparked outrage and put the spotlight on the victims of the gas leak, who have long complained that they have got neither adequate justice nor sufficient compensation for what they suffered. They point out that the site of the disaster must still be properly cleaned up.

In recent days, many commentators have criticized the Indian government's handling of the aftermath of the disaster, saying it did little to ensure that the American firm Union Carbide was made accountable for the gas leak or that the victims received adequate money. Commentators and activists are also comparing the response of the U.S. government to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that unlike oil giant BP, Union Carbide was never held responsible for the gas leak.        

Union Carbide paid a $470 million to the Indian government in 1989. Dow Chemicals, which bought over Union Carbide, says its liabilities ended with that settlement.

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