Four years after the Bhopal gas disaster killed more than 3,300 people in the world's worst industrial accident, victims are still dying and more than half a million people are waiting for compensation.
Only the lawyers have made money so far.The Indian government is claiming $3.3 billion in compensation on behalf of 525,000 claimants, relatives of the dead or victims injured when poisonous gas leaked out of a Bhopal pesticides plant operated by a subsidiary of Union Carbide of Danbury, Conn.
While their claims were being sifted, a local court awarded them $270 million in interim compensation. Another court reduced it to $192 million, and the Indian Supreme Court is now considering appeals by both Union Carbide and the government.
So far, no victim has been paid.
Dec. 3, 1984, was a cold, clear night in Bhopal. Just before 1 a.m., for reasons still in dispute, tons of methyl isocyanate gas began to leak out of a storage tank, spreading a yellow cloud south of the Union Carbide plant and over the crowded shanty-towns outside its walls.
Sleeping shanty dwellers awoke vomiting, clutching their stomachs. Many were soon blinded by the gas. As panic spread, people staggered from their homes trying to escape.
Within hours, 1,700 people were dead. More than 1,600 have died since, mostly from lung and respiratory illness, taking the official death toll to 3,323 in late November.
Thirty-four people have died from the effects of the accident in the past two months alone.
In September the government said more than 100,000 people - 1,000 of them in-patients at special medical institutions created for gas victims - were still being treated for symptoms caused by the disaster, recognized as the world's worst industrial accident.
The Union Carbide plant, closed down since the disaster, still stands, its walls daubed with red and black slogans.
Housewife Rani Chhabra was eight months pregnant when the accident changed her life. Her baby died within a month of its birth. She still suffers the effects of the gas.
Raj Kumar Sahu, 25, who ran a cigarette shop near the plant, still has nightmares about that night. Every morning he wakes with a burning sensation in his eyes. Sahu remembers vividly the bodies of people and cattle littering the streets.
Union Carbide cannot shift or dismantle the plant, much less reopen it, as court cases continue.
More than 200,000 people were injured in the disaster and many of them are now unemployed or under-employed.
Those with damaged eyes have had to change or give up their jobs. Those with respiratory problems have lost part of their income because they cannot work long hours.
Their only hope is settlement of the compensation suit.
Like many of the victims, R.K. Yadav, a former Union Carbide employee, sees the court cases as a delaying tactic and favors what he calls an honorable out-of-court settlement.
In Bhopal, the anger against Union Carbide has not subsided.
"Will these interviews bring us the compensation or bring the dead back to life," asked Gobind Bhadoria, another former employee.
Others want retribution against the Union Carbide officials they blame for the disaster.
"Small-time criminals are punished within no time, but top bosses of Carbide continue to go scot-free," said Totoram Chaurhan, another former Carbide worker.
Criminal cases against those allegedly responsible continue parallel with the compensation hearings. All are greeted by angry demonstrators outside the courthouse.
At the most recent criminal hearing in November, Indian government lawyers told the court that arrest warrants against Warren Anderson, the multinational company's former chief executive, had finally been served.
The next hearing is set for Jan. 6,but there is no guarantee that Anderson or any other of the defendants will appear.
Court cases in India are notoriously slow, and this is no exception.
In the Supreme Court, Union Carbide's lawyers have argued that the company neither owned nor operated the plant and that even the interim compensation was prejudging the issue.
But even when the case is settled, it is not clear that the parent company will accept the Indian court's verdict.
Four years after the disaster, the battles go on and the victims keep dying.