India's top court rejects govt plea seeking more compensation for Bhopal gas disaster victims

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Indian Supreme Court building is seen in New Delhi

By Arpan Chaturvedi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the government's plea seeking more compensation from Union Carbide Corporation for victims of a gas leak in the central Indian city of Bhopal that resulted in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

In the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide factory, owned by the American company, in the state capital of Madhya Pradesh. More than half a million people were poisoned that night and the official death toll exceeded 5,000.

Following the disaster, the government sued Union Carbide and the company agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement of $470 million in damages in 1989.

The government approached the country's top court in 2010 seeking enhanced compensation for the victims.

Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, denied liability, saying it bought the company a decade after Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government.

"We believe this would not be the appropriate course of action or method to impose a greater liability on the UCC (Union Carbide) than it initially agreed to bear," the five-judge bench said in its judgement dismissing the petition.

"We are equally dissatisfied with the Union of India for being unable to furnish any rationale for raking up this issue more than two decades after the incident."

Built in 1969, the Union Carbide plant was seen as a symbol of industrialisation in India, generating thousands of jobs for the poor and, at the same time, manufacturing cheap pesticides for millions of farmers.

Thousands of survivors of the tragedy have said they, their children and grandchildren are still struggling with chronic health problems as a result of the leak and toxic waste left behind.

(This story has been corrected to fix date in dateline)

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)