With a new generation still suffering the effects of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy that killed more than 17,000 Indians, hopes are growing that the Union Carbide plant at the centre of the tragedy, left abandoned and derelict for 20 years, may finally be cleaned up. The New York Federal Court, acting on a case lodged by three survivors, said earlier this year that it could order Union Carbide - which ran the fertiliser-making plant in Bhopal in central India - to remove the tonnes of lethal chemicals still stored inside, provided New Delhi has no objection. 'It's a huge, huge step forward. We've been campaigning for years that it should be Union Carbide and not the Indian taxpayer who should pay for the cleanup on the basis of 'the polluter pays' principle but legal disputes and delays by the Indian government have meant that nothing has happened,' said Namrata Chowdhary, media officer with Greenpeace India. Last week, three survivors staged a hunger strike in New Delhi to protest against yet another delay. The New York judge had asked India to provide a 'no-objection' letter to his suggestion by June 30. Instead of sending it, the law and environment ministries wrangled over which of them should reply. Anxious that a golden opportunity might be lost after years of protests, the activists hoped to force the government to act in time. The pressure tactics worked. Last Thursday, New Delhi said the letter was being faxed. Over 3,000 people died immediately after methyl isocyanate leaked from a storage tank and spread into the neighbouring slums, but ultimately 17,000 people died from the after-effects of the world's worst industrial disaster. About 19,000 still suffer chronic ailments from having inhaled the deadly gas. Bhopal babies are still being born with severe abnormalities because their mothers breathed in the fumes. The 30-hectare plant was abandoned after the disaster. The chemicals stored inside have seeped into the soil, contaminating the land and drinking water of the people living in the surrounding area. No one knows precisely how much toxic waste remains, but Greenpeace estimates put the figure at 5,000 tonnes and believes the cleanup cost could run to US$500 million. Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 2002, said it had nothing to do with the mess left behind by the previous owners.