NEW DELHI (AP) - India's Supreme Court issued notices Monday to Dow Chemicals and Union Carbide Corp. saying it will begin hearings on a petition filed by the government seeking greater compensation for survivors of the world's worst industrial disaster more than 26 years ago.
The Indian government is seeking payment of $1.7 billion on top of $470 million paid by Union Carbide as compensation to those killed and injured when huge amounts of a poisonous gas leaked from a pesticide plant in central India.
At least 4,000 people died immediately after the deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked into the air in December 1984. Lingering effects of the poison raised the death toll to about 15,000 over the next few years, according to government estimates.
The court said that it will begin hearings in April on the petition, which is seeking additional payments to the families of the victims and the survivors, many of whom are suffering from debilitating illnesses caused by inhaling the gas.
A Bhopal gas victims' rights group said it welcomed the court's decision, but warned that the government should get accurate figures of the dead and the disabled.
"The government underestimates the deaths, injuries and disabilities," said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
In the past, Michigan-based Dow Chemical has said it has no liability because it did not own Union Carbide at the time of the leak. It contends Union Carbide's settlement payment resolved the legal case.