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Slow Settlement Hampers Bhopal Aid

ACCORDING to a letter faxed in early November to groups around the world concerned about Bhopal, many survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak ``are eating better, are not forced to do hard physical work, and are slowly paying back the debts they had incurred in the last few years.'' A monthly stipend of about $12 per person, in effect since June, is benefiting more than 300,000 Bhopal residents, said Dr. Rajeev Lochan Sharma and Satinath Sarangi, who wrote the letter. But the interim compensation - provided by the Indian government under orders from its Supreme Court - hardly solves the situation, said the two Indian activists, who work with victims in Bhopal.

``Death, disease, and despair continue to stalk the shanties'' around the Union Carbide plant the advocates wrote. ``[T]he most critical medical, rehabilitation, and legal issues on Bhopal remain to be addressed in a meaningful manner.'' They also criticized the lack of press coverage of the situation.

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The $470 million settlement between Union Carbide and the Indian government, reached in February 1989, remains tied up in Indian courts. First victims' groups, and then the government of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, challenged the adequacy of the settlement and terms that free the corporation and its officials from criminal liability.

Union Carbide spokesman Robert Berzok says the ``settlement was final and there does not appear any reason or basis for disturbing it.'' But he, too, bemoans the fact that ``the genuine victims are still not getting the benefits of A) the settlement and B) of a lot of other things that have been put forward over the years.''

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharma and Mr. Sarangi say they have found evidence of a new threat from the closed Carbide plant - chemicals used there may have contaminated drinking water wells. They say the government has yet to investigate.

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