The protesters, mostly widows, took a train from the central Indian city of Bhopal to New Delhi and squatted near the national parliament in a day-long protest on Monday.

They are the victims of a toxic gas leak from a pesticide plant owned by US firm Union Carbide in Bhopal in December 1984. At least 1750 people died instantly. A further 2500 died within a week. Effects from the chemicals continue to take their toll with the number of related deaths now standing at 14,000.

"We are poor and in terrible health," said 72-year-old Ram Pyari.

"It is exhausting for us to travel all the way here to talk about how we have not received a rupee of the compensation promised to us.

"I am a cancer patient. I have dragged myself here because I can't get over how Union Carbide robbed me of my husband and my grandson. The government is now taking us for a royal ride. People should know."

In July the Supreme Court ordered the central bank to pay out 15.03 billion rupees ($326.7 million) to the victims.

The order was made by a two-judge Supreme Court hearing a petition from survivors and families of victims of the world's worst industrial disaster.

More deaths

"I am a cancer patient. I have dragged myself here because I can't get over how Union Carbide robbed me of my husband and my grandson. The government is now taking us for a royal ride"

Victim Ram Pyari

After a protracted legal battle, Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, paid $470 million to the Indian government in a settlement in 1989.

The court directed the government to pay out 8.6 million rupees to the victims and keep the rest in a dollar account in the Reserve Bank of India.

With interest this has grown to 15.03 billion rupees - the sum the bank has been told to hand over.

Commissioner report

The court did not say when the money had to be disbursed, but ordered the commissioner in charge of relief to file a report within three months.

"The commissioner has stalled everything by saying it is impossible to make payouts unless 11,000 cases relating to the Bhopal gas leak are settled," said another victim, Balkrishna Namdeo.

The state government of Madhya Pradesh has said that at least six billion rupees should be set aside for settling other legal cases that may crop up in the future.

More than half a million people were affected by the leak and nearly all of those who survived have breathing problems, making them incapable of heavy physical work.

Another 120,000 to 150,000 suffer from chronic diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer.