Bhopal: A court on Monday found the Indian unit of US chemicals firm Union Carbide and eight Indian employees guilty of negligence over one of the world’s worst industrial accidents that killed thousands of people in 1984.
Union Carbide plant in the central city of Bhopal accidentally released toxic gases into the air 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.
The verdict is the first in more than 25 years that could lead to jail sentences of up to two years and fines for those convicted, though rights activists said the punishment would be too light.
Nityanand Jayaraman, of the Bhopal campaign for justice talks to Padmaparna Ghosh about his outrage at the verdict
Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan speaking to Mint’s Padmaparna Ghosh says that though the verdict sets a good precedent, it is sad that the conviction was for ’negligence’ and not ’culpable homicide’.
Keshub Mahindra, current chairman of India’s top utility vehicle and tractor maker Mahindra & Mahindra, was the highest ranking person convicted on Monday. He was chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd, a unit of Union Carbide, at the time of the accident.
Others found guilty are Vijay Gokhle, the then managing director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, the then vice president, J N Mukund, the then works manager, S P Choudhary, the then production manager, K V Shetty, the then plant superintendent and S I Quershi, the then production assistant.
Union Carbide’s Indian arm was also found guilty.
Those convicted can appeal to a higher court, a process that in India can take years.
Click here to view a slideshow of photographs of the defunct plant
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“It’s actually going to be nothing. What is it? We’re looking at maximum punishment of two years or a fine. If that’s not the biggest joke, then I don’t know what is,” Rachna Dhingra, a Bhopal rights activist, said.
“There’s nothing to be happy about.”
The verdict in Bhopal applied only to Indian officials of the former Union Carbide’s Indian arm while separate cases have been filed against the company and its overseas officials.
Union Carbide had settled its liabilities to the Indian government in 1989 before being bought over by Dow Chemical.
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