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India: Victory for Bhopal gas leak survivors as government promises revision of compensation claim based on medical data

India’s government has today agreed to use medical and scientific data to accordingly 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 promised to revise the numbers of deaths and injuries for which it was seeking compensation, in line with scientific data, medical research and hospital records, following a nil-by-mouth hunger strike by five women, who began their action on 10 November. 

“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,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director for Global Issues. 

Today 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 Fertilizers, Ananth Kumar. 

“The existing medical and scientific data confirms that the figures currently being used by the government are too low. Survivors and activists have long called for the government to use scientific facts as the basis for the additional compensation claims,” said Audrey Gaughran.

The Minister also agreed to use scientific and medical data to revisit the list of survivors entitled to additional payment.

“We welcome this important move by the government, now Prime Minister Modi must ensure his government’s pledge is honoured,” said Audrey Gaughran. 

“That would be a historic step towards justice for Bhopal.” 

Survivors, activists and their international supporters, including Amnesty International, have long criticized the 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. 

The US government should support India’s efforts to bring Union Carbide to justice. 

“India’s move should serve as a wake-up call to Union Carbide and their masters at Dow Chemicals,” said Audrey Gaughran. 

“The Bhopal story isn’t going away and it will haunt Union Carbide and Dow until justice is served. 

“Likewise, India must finally clean-up the Bhopal plant – a thirty-year-old stain on successive governments’ conscience. Actions speak louder than writs.” 

This press release was amended on 29 November 2014 to reflect additional information on the methodology the government will use to revise the figures in the Curative Petition and assess other claims.