India's government has agreed to increase a multi-million dollar compensation claim against Union Carbide over the 1984 gas leak from the company's pesticide plant that poisoned more than half a million people.
The government has promised to revise the numbers of deaths and injuries for which it was seeking compensation in order to end a nil-by-mouth hunger strike by five women, who began their action on 10 November.
Yesterday the women, who were on hunger strike and were supported by another 200 survivors and activists, were called to a meeting with Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers, Ananth Kumar. He agreed, in writing, to revise figures the government was using in the compensation claim, and promised to do so before the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster on 2 December. He also agreed to ensure that survivors who had never received compensation would now get the payments they are entitled to.
Survivors, activists and their international supporters, including Amnesty International, have long criticised the Indian government for massively underestimating the number of dead and injured in a curative petition against Union Carbide's 1989 settlement. The government had claimed for 5,295 deaths, 4,902 cases of permanent disability and 42 cases of severe injury. Activists have been calling for 22,917 deaths, 508,432 cases of permanent disability and 33,781 cases of severe injury to be included in the petition.
US corporate giant Dow Chemicals has owned Union Carbide since 2001, but has refused to compel its subsidiary to return to India to face outstanding charges of culpable homicide. Both companies refuse to pay for a clean-up of the contaminated site. Amnesty believes that the US government should support India's efforts to bring Union Carbide to justice.
Amnesty International's Director for Global Issues Audrey Gaughran said:
"This is a major victory for survivors of the 1984 gas leak, but subsequent generations of Bhopalis continue to suffer as chemicals abandoned by Union Carbide 30 years ago still leak into the groundwater today.
"We welcome this important move by the government, now Prime Minister Modi must ensure his government's pledge is honoured. That would be a historic step towards justice for Bhopal.
"India's move should serve as a wake-up call to Union Carbide and their masters at Dow Chemicals.
"The Bhopal story isn't going away and it will haunt Union Carbide and Dow until justice is served."