Union Carbide's $470 million settlement with India over the 1984 Bhopal gas leak pleased Wall Street, but it was castigated by an attorney for victims of the world's worst industrial disaster.
"They got off criminally cheap," said Melvin Belli, who had represented the interests of about 2,000 plaintiffs in the disaster, which killed more than 3,300 people, before the cases were transferred from U.S. courts to India."We had that amount of money two years ago in New York, and it wasn't enough and it isn't enough," Belli said in a telephone interview from San Francisco. He added that he thought two or three times the $470 million would have been fairer.
The stock market, however, was delighted by the settlement, which was ordered by the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.
Carbide's stock price soared $2.121/2 Tuesday to $31.25 a share in New York Stock Exchange trading after news of the settlement and the company's estimate that it expected a relatively mild impact on its earnings from the agreement.
The Indian court ordered the Danbury-based chemical company to make payment by March 31, thereby settling all claims resulting from the leak of deadly methyl isocyanate at the Bhopal pesticide plant, which was operated by Carbide's Indian subsidiary.
The plant has been closed since the Dec. 2, 1984, leak, the world's worst industrial disaster.
The Indian government sued Carbide for $3 billion in damages, claiming company negligence caused the leak. Carbide maintains that sabotage by a disgruntled employee was to blame.
"We are pleased that this will now provide for the care and rehabilitation of the victims and their families and a fair resolution of all issues," Carbide Chairman Robert D. Kennedy said in a statement.
In the year ended Dec. 31, Union Carbide earned $720 million, or $5.31 a share, on revenue of $8.32 billion. That compared with 1987 earnings of $231 million, or $1.76 a share, on revenue of $6.91 billion.
"Psychologically, it's terrific. Financially, it's reasonable," said Leslie Ravitz, a research director for Salomon Brothers Inc. in New York. "This relieves the pressure on Union Carbide and the stigma."
James Wilbur, a vice president with Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. Inc. in New York, said Union Carbide has set aside $200 million toward the settlement and had $250 million in insurance coverage, leaving it at risk for another $20 million under the settlement.