Salman Khurshid, Union Minister for Corporate Affairs, on Sunday blamed the NGOs working on the Bhopal gas tragedy case for the delay in cleaning up the still-toxic site of the Union Carbide factory.

He said the Government's bid to clean up the area was frustrated by NGOs who were opposed to taxpayers' money being used for the purpose and were insisting that Dow Chemical, the new owner of the site, should be made to pay for it.

Speaking to Indian journalists here, Mr Khurshid criticised the NGOs for not allowing the site to be cleaned up unless the legal dispute over Dow's responsibility was settled.

"What we are saying is : let's clean it up and we can continue to pursue the legal case but their argument is that taxpayers' money should not be spent on this," he said.

Mr Khurshid appeared to question Dow's claim that it had no further liability after Union Carbide's 470-million-dollar out-of-court settlement with the Government in 1989 but said it would depend on the "legal documentation" relating to the change of ownership.

"It is like when you buy a house. Can you say that you will not pay the electricity and phone bills of the previous owner? It depends what is in the legal documents," he said.

Mr Khurshid said he understood the emotions and the anger that the delay in sorting out some of the issues had aroused but defended the Government's handling of the case. He said it was doing everything possible to make sure that those who were responsible for the world's worst industrial disaster were brought to justice.