Ex-Union Carbide Officials Jailed over Bhopal Leak

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Ex-Union Carbide Officials Jailed over Bhopal Leak

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A court Monday found the Indian unit of U.S. chemicals firm Union Carbide guilty of negligence and sentenced seven Indian former employees to two years in jail over one of the world's worst industrial accidents that killed thousands in 1984. (Getty image)

India
- A court Monday found the Indian unit of U.S. chemicals firm Union
Carbide guilty of negligence and sentenced seven Indian former
employees to two years in jail over one of the world's worst industrial
accidents that killed thousands in 1984.

A Union Carbide plant in the
central city of Bhopal accidentally released toxic gases into the air
towards nearby slums and the government says around 3,500 people died
as a result. Activists say 25,000 died in the immediate aftermath and
the years that followed.

Seven
Indian former employees were sentenced to two years in prison and fined
100,000 rupees (1,447 pounds) in a judgement for which activists have
campaigned for a quarter of a century. But activists said the sentences
were too light.

The court also fined the former Indian unit of Union Carbide 500,000 rupees.

Hundreds
of protesters, many waving placards saying "hang the guilty" and "they
are traitors of the nation," tried to force their way inside the court
complex but were stopped by police.

"Let
us in. They may have been punished, but what about us? There are so
many of us who have not received any compensation," said Shanta Bai, a
gas victim.

Ram Prasad, a
75-year-old villager, said: "This punishment is not enough. I lost my
son, younger brother and my father and I still have nightmares."

Keshub
Mahindra, the current chairman of India's top utility vehicle and
tractor maker Mahindra & Mahindra, was the highest-ranking person
convicted Monday. He was chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd at the
time of the accident.

Those convicted can appeal to a higher court, a process that can take years in India.

"This
was not an exemplary punishment that would deter corporations from
repeating a Bhopal gas disaster," said Rachna Dhingra, a Bhopal
activist. "There's nothing to be happy about."

REGULATORY CHALLENGES

The
case cuts deep in a country of 1.2 billion, mainly poor, people. It
highlights the challenges of how to ensure improving health and safety
regulations keep pace with a fast-growing economy, now Asia's third
largest.

The legacy of the Bhopal
disaster looms over a stalled bill in the Indian parliament that would
limit the responsibility of foreign firms entering India's lucrative
civilian nuclear market.

The
verdict in Bhopal applied only to Indian officials of the former Union
Carbide's Indian arm. Separate cases have been filed against the
company and its overseas officials.

Union
Carbide settled its liabilities to the Indian government in 1989 by
paying $470 million (323 million pounds) before being bought by U.S.
company Dow Chemical.

In the
early hours of December 3, 1984, around 40 metric tonnes of toxic
methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked into the atmosphere and was carried
by the wind to the surrounding slums.

Activists and health workers say a further 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer today.

Sicknesses
included cancer, blindness, respiratory difficulties, immune and
neurological disorders, and female reproductive disorders, as well as
birth defects among children born to affected women.

"Delay
in justice is practically denial of justice," India's law minister M.
Veerappa Moily told reporters. "It is most unfortunate that it has
taken that much of time to give the verdict. We have to address that
issue."

Activists say thousands of
tonnes of toxic waste have not been properly disposed of at the now
derelict pesticide factory and seeps into the groundwater for local
residents. The government denies the groundwater is contaminated.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Paul de Bendern)

 

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