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Indian Court Convicts 8 in Bhopal Industrial Disaster


An Indian court has convicted eight former employees of Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary for their role in a deadly gas leak from the company's plant in the city of Bhopal in 1984. The first convictions in connection with the world's worst industrial disaster have come 25 long years after the tragedy left hundreds of thousands of people dead, disabled or coping with serious health problems.

A judicial magistrate in Bhopal handed down a two year prison term to seven men and ordered them to pay a fine of $2175 after finding them guilty of criminal negligence. An eighth man, who has also been pronounced guilty, is no longer alive.

They were all top managers of the former Indian unit of U.S. chemical firm Union Carbide at the time when a toxic gas leaked from the company's pesticide plant in December 1984, and spread over the town of Bhopal.

The convicted men, many now in their seventies, have been granted bail.

The prosecution had charged that the plant did not follow proper safety procedures. The company, which no longer exists, was also found guilty and fined about $10,800.

The official death toll in the disaster is 3,500. But activists say over the years the poisonous gas leak has claimed more than 20,000 lives. Hundreds of thousands were either disabled or left grappling with chronic illnesses.

The convictions came as emotions ran high in the town which has been demanding accountability for the gas leak for a quarter of a century. But many victims remain unsatisfied. Hundreds waited outside the courtroom, calling them "too little, too late."

"We do not think it is justice done, and I think the fight will start again, because we do not think that this is fair," said activist Racha Dhingra, who works with Bhopal survivors. "This kind of verdict just gives the message that corporations can come, kill, pollute, set up their factory and then leave without any kind of criminal liability."

There is outrage among the victims that the charges against the accused were reduced by the Supreme Court in 1996 from culpable homicide to death by negligence, which carries a much lighter sentence.

Rasheeda Bee, who lost seven family members in the disaster, said Monday's verdict failed to give the victims any sense of justice. Bee said those who have watched family members suffer or die will not stay silent.

There is also anger in Bhopal that the head of the Union Carbide at the time of the gas leak, Warren Anderson, has never appeared in court. He was named as one of the accused in the case, and later declared an "absconder" by the court.

Union Carbide said that the gas leak was due to sabotage by a disgruntled employee and gave $470 million to the Indian government as a settlement for the disaster.

Union Carbide was later bought by Dow Chemical. Dow Chemical has said its legal liabilities ended with that settlement.

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