BHOPAL, India — A judge directed Union Carbide Corp. and the Indian government today to reach an out-of-court settlement within seven weeks for victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that left nearly 3,000 people dead.
Judge M. W. Deo said in Bhopal District Court that he issued the order because both parties had indicated they wished "a just and overall settlement." He said if an agreement is not reached by Oct. 30, the case will resume in court.
The hearings began in September, 1986, and some legal experts have estimated that the complex case could take as long as five years to settle in court.
"The parties should arrive at an out-of-court settlement by making earnest efforts in the interests of the gas victims by Oct. 30," Deo said in his order.
"The court cannot keep on granting small adjournments and hang the suit on these plaints," he explained. "I join the parties in their reconciliatory gesture by making the court available to the parties."
India is suing Union Carbide for $3 billion as compensation for the 500,000 people it says were affected by the Dec. 3, 1984, gas leak at the U.S.-based multinational's pesticide plant in Bhopal, 375 miles south of New Delhi.
About 40 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas leaked from an underground tank at the plant and spread across a large area of the Madhya Pradesh state capital, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring 200,000.
India claims Union Carbide's negligence caused history's worst industrial disaster.
Union Carbide has argued that sabotage by a disgruntled employee caused the leak and says the central and state governments share some responsibility for the accident. Union Carbide has a standing offer of $350 million for compensation, which has been rejected by India.