BHOPAL, India — People injured in the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster cheered and wept today when a judge ordered Union Carbide Corp. to pay $270 million in interim relief to the victims of the world's worst industrial accident.
The payment, ordered by Bhopal District Judge M. W. Deo, works out to about 9% of the $3 billion India is seeking in damages from the multinational company, based in Danbury, Conn.
Deo ordered the relief payment to be allocated within two months.
Union Carbide issued a statement in Danbury saying the payment ordered by the court "amounts to awarding damages without a trial."
'Din of Diverse Voices'
In Bhopal, Anil Diwan, a Carbide attorney, said: "We will study the judgment before deciding further action."
Earlier this week, lawyers for lobbying groups representing the victims had demanded $770 million in interim payments from Carbide.
The judge said he felt interim relief was necessary because "attempts at an overall settlement appear to have bogged down in the din of diverse, loud voices, leaving the poor gas victims, pathetically past even the third anniversary of the unprecedented disaster, to fight out the legal battle."
Deo said many families were suffering because their principal wage earner had been killed in the disaster or was permanently disabled and unable to work.
World's Worst Such Accident
"The need for immediate relief to the gas victims is so obvious that nothing more need be said," he concluded.
The Indian government has already spent $46 million to aid disaster victims.
More than 2,800 people were killed and at least 20,000 seriously injured when gas leaked from a Carbide subsidiary's pesticide plant in Bhopal in central India on Dec. 3, 1984. It is considered the world's worst industrial accident.
India's $3-billion suit on behalf of the victims accuses Carbide of negligence. The U.S. corporation blames sabotage by a disgruntled employee.
Scores of gas victims, who were staging a sit-in outside the courthouse today to demand interim relief, broke into cheers and tears when Deo's decision was announced.
Deo said the money would be distributed by P. D. Muley, a Madhya Pradesh state high court judge who has been named by the government as relief commissioner for the gas victims.
Deo suggested that compensation could be $15,400 for death; $7,692 for total disability and unspecified lesser amounts for victims with lesser injuries. The judge did not say how many people should be compensated.
On Dec. 1, India filed criminal charges, accusing Carbide, several subsidiaries and a number of officers of homicide and injury to people and animals. The criminal case was filed after lawyers for Carbide and the government said they could not reach an out-of-court settlement. The lawyers had been discussing a settlement in the $500-million range, according to sources close to the case.