AFP, May 29, 2008
Survivors of Bhopal Gas tragedy shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi
NEW DELHI (AFP) — India is to set up a panel to help victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, which killed more than 15,000 people, a minister said Thursday after meeting survivors of the tragedy.
Junior minister Prithviraj Chavan also said India would press the US company that owns the former Union Carbide to clean up the site of what has been called the world’s worst industrial accident.
The Bhopal disaster occurred when a storage tank at a Union Carbide India pesticide plant spewed deadly cyanide gas into the air, killing more than 3,500 slum dwellers immediately.
The death toll has since climbed to more than 15,000, the government says.
Activists and protesters want the site to be cleared of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste embedded in the soil as well as jobs and compensation for health problems suffered by the victims.
The panel will cover the “medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation” of the victims, said Chavan, a junior minister in the premier’s office.
The federal health ministry “will continue medical research on the adverse effects of gas leakage on the health of survivors,” he added, after meeting a group of about 100 activists who have been camping in New Delhi.
US-based Dow Chemicals bought Union Carbide 15 years after the disaster, and survivors are demanding it pay 25 million dollars to clean up the site.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal said activists were particularly pleased the government had said Dow Chemical was responsible for the “liabilities” of Union Carbide.
“They hope that the government will summon the political will to take appropriate legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical for their crimes in India,” it said.
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.
Bhopal activists say 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.
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.