7 former Union Carbide officials sentenced to 2 years for Bhopal gas tragedy

A woman waits for the verdict in the case. The 1984 tragedy left about 15,000 people dead.
A woman waits for the verdict in the case. The 1984 tragedy left about 15,000 people dead. (Prakash Hatvalne/associated Press)
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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

NEW DELHI -- Seven former employees of Union Carbide were found guilty Monday of "death by negligence" and "culpable homicide not amounting to murder" for their role in the Bhopal gas tragedy, which claimed more than 15,000 lives a quarter-century ago.

The former officials, all from India, were sentenced to two years in prison and fined more than $2,200 each.

Survivors and victims' groups immediately criticized the verdict and sentence as "too little, too late," and the Indian government banned protesters from entering the court grounds to avoid confrontation.

"This sentence is a joke on the people of Bhopal who waited 25 years for justice," said Abdul Jabbar, a victim who heads the largest women's survivors group.

Rachna Dhingra, a campaigner for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, said, "The message of the verdict is that the corporations can come, kill and release toxic gases and nothing will happen to them."

The seven Indian citizens convicted include Keshub Mahindra, 85. Mahindra was chairman of Union Carbide in India when deadly plumes of the gas methyl isocyanate began leaking out of a pesticide factory shortly after midnight on Dec. 3, 1984.

At least 3,000 people were killed immediately, and more than 500,000 people were affected by gas-related diseases.

Survivors have demanded that Michigan-based Dow Chemical, the company that bought Union Carbide, clean up the soil and underground water at the factory site and the surrounding shanties, which were contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and mercury.

Advocates say thousands of residents continue to suffer from chronic illnesses such as poor eyesight and respiratory and gynecological problems.

Union Carbide settled a civil lawsuit in 1989 and paid the Indian government $470 million to compensate the victims of the industrial accident.

When the money was distributed in 2005 among 570,927 survivors, legal analysts in Bhopal say, most received the equivalent of $1,280.

India's Central Bureau of Investigation filed criminal cases against top Union Carbide officials in the United States, Hong Kong and India.

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