Criminal Justice

7 Surviving Union Carbide Execs Convicted in Case Over 1984 Bhopal Disaster

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More than 25 years after 7,000 people died from a toxic gas leak at a Union Carbide Corp. pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, and many more were injured, a court has convicted seven surviving senior executives there of causing death by negligence. The convictions carry maximum two-year jail terms.

The defendants, who are all Indians, were released on bail and are expected to appeal. An eighth executive died in the more than 20 years that it took to to try the case to today’s verdict, according to Bloomberg.

In addition to the approximately 7,000 people who died within days of Dec. 3, 1984 accident, another 15,000 subsequently died from the effects of the toxic gas exposure, the news agency reports. The convictions today are the first ever related to the Bhopal accident.

Union Carbide was acquired in 1999 by Dow Chemical Co. It says the case was fully resolved from the company’s standpoint by a $470 million Union Carbide out-of-court settlement in 1989 that was agreed to by the Indian government.

Advocates for the victims expressed bitterness at the relatively light sentences imposed in one of the world’s worst disasters.

“After 26 years, if a court finds someone guilty then you cannot call it justice,” Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action told Bloomberg. “The maximum punishment they got is two years in jail, after killing thousands of people, maiming tens of thousands and poisoning the water.”

Initially the executives were charged with culpable homicide, which permits a maximum 10-year sentence upon conviction. However, the Supreme Court of India reduced the charges to causing death by negligence, according to the New York Times.

Additional and related coverage: (Nov. 2008): “2nd Circuit OKs Suit Over Alleged Union Carbide Water Pollution in Bhopal, India”

BBC News: “Bhopal trial: Eight found guilty”

Wall Street Journal (sub. req.): “Eight Found Guilty in Bhopal Case “

Xinhua: “Indian court convicts 8 for 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy”

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