Bhopal gas leak convictions not enough, say campaigners

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Convictions over a gas plant leak that killed thousands of people in 1984 in the Indian city of Bhopal have been heavily criticised by campaigners.

Amnesty International described the two-year sentences for eight people as "too little, too late".

The convictions are the first since the disaster at the Union Carbide plant - the world's worst industrial accident.

The eight Indians, all former plant employees, were convicted of "death by negligence".

One was convicted posthumously. The others are expected to appeal.

Nityanand Jayaraman, of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal campaign group, told the BBC the punishment imposed on Union Carbide was wholly inadequate.

"I share the Bhopalis' sense of outrage and betrayal," he said.

"I feel that it portends ill for the country that industrialists and corporations are being told that they can actually get away with murder, and today's verdict is essentially that - a signal that [after] the world's worst industrial disaster, the people who were accused of that are just being let off with a rap on the knuckles."

Satinath Sarangi, an activist also campaigning on behalf of Bhopal victims, told the BBC that justice would not be done until US executives from Union Carbide at the time of the incident - including the company's former head, Warren Anderson - were brought to India to face justice.

"This is not the justice that we have been waiting for, because the principal accused - Warren Anderson, Union Carbide corporation USA - are not here," he said.

"The charges that have been [laid] on the Indian accused have essentially been the charges that you would put for a traffic accident. This is indeed a very sad day for us."

Forty tonnes of a toxin called methyl isocyanate leaked from the pesticide factory and settled over slums in Bhopal on 3 December 1984.

Official figures show at least 3,000 people died at the time and as many as 15,000 have died since.

Campaigners put the death toll as high as 25,000 and say the horrific effects of the gas continue to this day.


Amnesty International also called on the Indian and US governments to take legal action against US executives of Union Carbide.

"These are historic convictions, but it is too little, too late," said Audrey Gaughran, an Amnesty director.

"Twenty-five years is an unacceptable length of time for the survivors of the disaster and families of the dead to have waited for a criminal trial to reach a conclusion.

"While the Indian employees have now been tried and convicted, the foreign accused have been able to evade justice simply by remaining abroad. This is totally unacceptable."

Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Women's Workers group, told the AFP news agency that "justice will be done in Bhopal only if individuals and corporations responsible are punished in an exemplary manner".

Although Warren Anderson was named as an accused and later declared an "absconder" by the court, he was not mentioned in Monday's verdict.

The eight convicted on Monday were Keshub Mahindra, the chairman of the Indian arm of the Union Carbide (UCIL); VP Gokhale, managing director; Kishore Kamdar, vice-president; J Mukund, works manager; SP Chowdhury, production manager; KV Shetty, plant superintendent; SI Qureshi, production assistant. All of them are Indians.

The seven former employees, some of whom are now in their 70s, were also ordered to pay fines of 100,000 Indian rupees (£1,467; $2,125) apiece.

The site of the former pesticide plant is now abandoned.

It was taken over by the state government of Madhya Pradesh in 1998, but environmentalists say poison is still found there.

Campaigners say Bhopal has an unusually high incidence of children with birth defects and growth deficiency, as well as cancers, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Twenty years ago Union Carbide paid $470m (£282m) in compensation to the Indian government.

Dow Chemicals, which bought the company in 1999, says this settlement resolved all existing and future claims against the company.

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