AFP, May 12, 2008
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi (left)
NEW DELHI (AFP) — Activists for victims of India’s 1984 Bhopal gas leak said Monday that as the owner of the former Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals should pay for a clean-up before any new business in the country.
Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide in 1999, 15 years after toxic gases leaked from a plant in Bhopal in central India on the night of December 3, 1984, is not “immune” to responsibilities of compensation, said activist Rachna Dhingra of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
The group, citing what they said was an Indian law ministry document obtained through the Right for Information Act last week, which they said holds that “irrespective of the manner in which Union Carbide has been acquired by Dow Chemicals, if there is any legal liability it would be borne by Dow Chemicals.”
“We are happy to say that the law ministry is saying something we have been saying all along,” said Satinath Sarangi of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
The gas leak, described as the world’s worst industrial accident, occurred when a storage tank at a Union Carbide India pesticide plant spewed deadly cyanide gas into the air in Bhopal, killing more than 3,500 slum dwellers immediately.
The death toll has since climbed to more than 15,000, the government says.
Survivors and activists want US giant Dow Chemical to pay for the clean-up and health damages.
Dow says all liabilities were settled in 1989 when Union Carbide paid 470 million dollars to the Indian government to be allocated to survivors and families of the dead.
But local court cases in India have since challenged Dow’s stand and called for more compensation for victims as well as for the environmental damage.
Dow Chemicals has sought help from the government and local companies such as Tata Group to settle the matter so it can proceed with investments in India estimated at one billion dollars.
The Bhopal activist group however says the plant site still contains around 5,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals, which have contaminated soil and water up to five kilometres (three miles) away.