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Court orders Bhopal victim payouts

Bhopal activists on a hunger strike outside parliament last month.
Dow Chemical Company
Supreme Court
New York

NEW DELHI, India -- India's Supreme Court has ordered the government to distribute millions of dollars in compensation still due to victims of a 1984 toxic gas leak.

At least 3,800 people in the city of Bhopal were killed almost immediately when tonnes of toxic gas escaped from a Union Carbide pesticide plant.

By some estimates, more than 100,000 people remain chronically ill from exposure to the gas leak.

The U.S.-based Union Carbide company, now owned by Dow Chemical Co., paid $470 million in compensation to victims in 1989.

But distribution of most of that money has been held up by bureaucratic disputes over the categorization of victims.

India's top court has ordered the government to pay a remaining $325.5 million (15.03 billion rupees) due to victims, lawyers told Reuters news service on Monday.

With the value of the Indian rupee having fallen sharply against the dollar in the last 15 years, the rupee value of the dollar compensation has risen significantly.

The gas victims had filed a plea in March 2002 with India's top court for the release of the rest of the compensation that was deposited with India's central bank.

"It is a positive development as the victims' voices have been heard. It is a balm to the wounds," Srinivasan Muralidhar, a Supreme Court lawyer for 36 gas victims, told Reuters after the verdict.

The Indian government continues to pursue criminal charges against former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, who is now retired in New York state and some victims continue to seek monetary damages from Dow Chemical.

A spokeswoman for Dow Chemical said earlier this year it had no involvement in the Bhopal tragedy and considered the original settlement between Union Carbide and victims to be final.

An Indian investigation found that the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked into the air while workers of the company were cleaning a tank.

Many victims continue to suffer shortness of breath and a burning sensation in their chest and throats.

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