India's Supreme Court has ordered the Union Carbide Corp. of the United States to pay $470 million in full and final compensation for the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Chief Justice R.S. Pathak said Tuesday the compensation was a "just, fair, equitable and reasonable sum," for victims of the 1984 tragedy, which killed more than 3,300 people in the central Indian city.The figure was immediately accepted by lawyers for the Indian government and received a nod of assent from Union Carbide executives in the court.
A spokesman for Union Carbide confirmed in New York that the company accepted the court's ruling. "Both the government of India and Union Carbide Corp. have accepted the court's direction," spokesman Earl Slack told Reuters.
Pathak ordered all civil cases and criminal proceedings against former Union Carbide chief executive Warren Anderson and other company officials quashed.
More than 3,300 people were killed, or have since died from their injuries, after toxic gas spewed from a Union Carbide pesticide plant at Bhopal on Dec. 3, 1984.
The surprise court order came shortly after lunch as lawyers prepared to continue arguing appeals by the Indian government and Union Carbide over an interim compensation award by a lower court against the Connecticut-based company.
"Having considered all the facts and circumstances . . . in particular the enormity of human suffering occasioned by the disaster and the pressing urgency to provide substantial and immediate relief to the victims, we consider the case pre-eminently fit for overall settlement," the court said.
Union Carbide, parent of an Indian subsidiary that operated the Bhopal plant, was directed to pay all $470 million to the Indian government before March 31.
The settlement appeared to bring an end to a complex series of court cases over the world's worst industrial accident.
About 1,700 people died within hours of inhaling lethal methylisocyanate that poured from the Bhopal plant. Since then, people have continued to die at an average of one a day. Up to 200,000 were injured and doctors say many will die from their injuries or remain too weak ever to work.
The Indian government originally claimed $3.3 billion in compensation.