Dubbing as "paltry" the relief announced recently for Bhopal disaster victims, the opposition on Wednesday demanded a substantial increase in it and asked the government to become a party to a petition filed in a US court to extract compensation from American firm Dow Chemicals.
Initiating a debate in the Lok Sabha on the 1984 gas tragedy, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj charged the then Rajiv Gandhi government with allowing Warren Anderson, then chief of Union Carbide in whose Bhopal plant the gas leak occurred, to "escape".
Demanding that Parliament pass a resolution scrapping the 1989 out-of-court settlement between Union Carbide and the government, she said what has been witnessed in Bhopal was "a case of corporate manslaughter" and not of "mere negligence".
She wanted India to take a cue from the Rs 90,000 crore compensation secured by the US from British Petroleum due to the recent oil spill in Gulf of Mexico to strengthen the case in a US court for more relief to the Bhopal victims.
India should become a party in the suit filed by some NGOs from Bhopal in the New York South court to get "thousands of crore as compensation" for the victims from Dow Chemicals, which now owns the assets of the Union Carbide, she contended.
In an hour-long speech, Swaraj said the victims of the tragedy have suffered "several betrayals" since the disaster struck 25 years ago and it was strange that some concerned judges, who handled the case, were "compensated adequately".
"One judge went on to become a member of the International Court of Justice, while another became head of several commissions and even a member of the Rajya Sabha. The gas victims were only deceived," she said.
She was also critical of former Chief Justice A S Ahmadi for a judgement that limited the punishment to the accused to only two years. While a demand for compensation of Rs 3,900 crore was made, the government agreed for only Rs 615 crore in the 1989 settlement, Swaraj said.
Countering the charges, Manish Tewari of the Congress said the government had moved the US courts, which had ruled that the cases be pursued in India.
He charged the BJP with "doing politics over the dead bodies" of the victims of the tragedy.