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Union Carbide to Pay India Gas Victims $470 Million : Activists Denounce Settlement

From Associated Press

Union Carbide Corp. agreed today to pay $470 million to the government of India in a court-ordered settlement resulting from the 1984 gas leak at Bhopal that killed more than 3,300 people in the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Activists in Bhopal denounced the settlement as a betrayal of the 20,000 victims who still suffer from exposure to the deadly gas that escaped from a pesticide plant on Dec. 3, 1984. The government had sought $3 billion in damages.

The settlement was met with approval from financial analysts and Wall Street. Union Carbide’s stock price soared $2.12 1/2 to $31.25 a share in late-morning New York Stock Exchange trading on the news.

Payment Deadline Set

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Chief Justice R. S. Pathak interrupted a government prosecutor’s routine argument when the court reconvened after lunch and ordered the U.S.-based multinational company to pay the damages by March 31.

Attorneys for the government and Union Carbide promptly agreed.

“It was apparent that there was an out-of-court agreement between Union Carbide and the government,” a court official said. “For such an order there should have been excitement, but there was no murmur even.”

Pathak, citing “the enormity of human suffering,” said a settlement was needed to “provide immediate and substantial relief.”

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More than 2,000 people were killed almost immediately when the white vapor of methyl isocyanate seeped from a storage tank at the plant operated by Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary and drifted over nearby shantytowns and into Bhopal.

Died in Their Sleep

The leak occurred shortly after midnight, and some victims died in their sleep. Others, blinded by tears and gasping for breath, tried to flee but collapsed in death.

More than 20,000 people still suffer from exposure to the gas and victims continue to die at a rate of at least one a day, according to a government gas relief board. It says the death toll has reached 3,329.

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Pathak, speaking for a five-judge Supreme Court panel, ordered Union Carbide to pay $470 million to the Indian government “in full and final settlement of all claims, rights and liabilities related to and arising out of the Bhopal gas disaster.”

He also ordered all civil proceedings transferred to the Supreme Court, and quashed all criminal charges, including one of culpable homicide filed in 1987 against former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson.

Payment Details Lacking

Pathak gave no details of how the money should be paid to the victims, but he directed government prosecutors and attorneys for the Danbury, Conn.-based company to submit a detailed agreement Wednesday.

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Financial analysts said they approved of the settlement. “Psychologically, it’s terrific. Financially, it’s reasonable,” said Leslie Ravitz, a research director for Solomon Bros. in New York. “This relieves the pressure on Union Carbide and the stigma.”

James Wilbur, a vice president with Smith Barney, Harris Upham and Co. in New York, said Union Carbide had set aside $200 million and had $250 million in insurance coverage.

“The risk is minimal,” he said.


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