In a move that could further entangle the legal battle over the Bhopal gas accident, the Union Carbide Corp. on Monday appealed an Indian court order to pay $270 million in interim aid to survivors of the tragedy. A judge is expected to decide tomorrow whether to consider the appeal and whether to stay the order during the appeal process.
``The order for payment amounts to a judgment and decree without trial, a judgment without evidence, and a judgment without considering the defenses of Union Carbide Corp.,'' the company said in a statement at its headquarters in Danbury, Conn.
The statement echoes remarks made by a company official last December when Indian Judge M.W. Deo issued the payment order.
``Although we are deeply concerned for the victims, interim compensation has never been allowed where evidence with respect to liability is in dispute,'' Robert Berzok said. ``The plaintiffs therefore cannot be awarded compensation before their right to it has been established.''
Judge Deo's decision was separate from another pending case in which the Indian government is seeking $3 billion in damages for 500,000 victims.
More than 2,800 people died and 20,000 were seriously injured when a cloud of methyl-isocyanate gas escaped from Union Carbide's chemical plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal.
The Indian government has charged that Union Carbide's negligence caused the gas leak while the American firm contends the accident resulted from employee sabotage.
Union Carbide maintains that the government's of India and the state of Madhya Pradesh also are to blame.
Since the accident, the survivors, many of whom lived in slums around the factory, have struggled with illnesses and have been unable to find new jobs.
``The court hopes that the amount may be so utilized and harnessed as to achieve dispersal of substantial interim compensation, health care, and generation of employment potential for gas victims,'' said Judge Deo at the time of the ruling. He had ordered Union Carbide to pay the money in two months.
Judge Deo has taken an activist role in urging the two sides to resolve the legal dispute.
The Indian government filed the damages case 17 months ago after a United States judge ruled that the case should be heard in India and not the US.
Last April, the judge suspended court proceedings to encourage out-of-court negotiations.
However, he resumed the case in November after lawyers for the two sides failed to meet a court deadline for a negotiated settlement. On Dec. 1, the Indian government filed criminal charges against the company and nine executives.