(photo credit: Associated Press)
BHOPAL, India — An Indian court convicted on Monday seven former senior employees of Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary of "death by negligence" for their roles in the Bhopal gas tragedy that left an estimated 15,000 people dead more than a quarter century ago in the world's worst industrial disaster.
The former employees, many of them in their 70s, were sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay fines of 100,000 rupees ($2,175) apiece. All seven were released on bail shortly after the verdict.
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The subsidiary, Union Carbide India Ltd., was convicted of the same charge and ordered to pay a fine of rupees 500,000 ($10,870). Union Carbide eventually sold its shares in the subsidiary company, which was renamed Eveready Industries India.
India's Central Bureau of Investigation, the country's top investigative agency, has said the plant had not been following proper safety procedures before the disaster.
Large groups of survivors and relatives, along with rights activists, gathered in the city and chanted slogans saying the verdict was too little, too late.
Early on Dec. 3, 1984, a pesticide plant run by Union Carbide leaked about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air in the city of Bhopal in central India, quickly killing about 4,000 people. The lingering effects of the poison raised the death toll to about 15,000 over the next few years, according to government estimates.
The verdicts, which were in a local court and are likely to be appealed, came as the case crawled through India's notoriously slow and ineffective judicial system.
The Central Bureau of Investigation had originally accused 12
defendants: eight senior Indian company officials; Warren Anderson, the
head of Union Carbide Corp. at the time of the gas leak; the company
itself and two subsidiary companies.
Seven of the eight Indian company officials were convicted Monday. The
other one has since died. Anderson and Union Carbide have never appeared
in court proceedings.
Investigators say the accident occurred when water entered a sealed tank
containing the highly reactive gas, causing pressure in the tank to
rise too high.