New Delhi (AsiaNews) -A court in Bhopal has sentenced eight people over the serious Union Carbide plant accident of 1984, when a huge spill of cyanide gas caused more than 15 thousand dead and 600 thousand intoxicated. The penalty is of two years imprisonment and a fine of 100 thousand rupees (about 1700 Euros) each, sparking protests among the victims, who had demanded “exemplary sentences ".
The sentence was for "manslaughter" an offense that provides up to 2 years in prison. Victims and their relatives have always supported the charges of homicide, given the enormity of negligence: Forty tonnes of a toxin called methyl isocyanate leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory and settled over slums in Bhopalon the night between 2 and 3 December 1984. Prosecutors had initially indicted 12 people for "culpable homicide not constituting murder”, which provides up to 10 years in prison. But by 1996 the Indian Supreme Court had reduced it to the current charge of "negligent homicide".
Among the guilty 8 is Keshub Mahindra, 85, former chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd, an Indian subsidiary of the company. The ruling does not include Warren Anderson, president at the time, arrested in Madhya Pradesh in 1984, released on bail and today fugitive. Anderson, 81, is considered the main culprit, but as a fugitive, has escaped trial. Indian judiciary has issued an arrest warrant against him, that has not yet been executed.
Pro-rights groups, who defend the victims have commented that the sentence is "too little, too late." The activist Satinath Sarangi said the worst industrial disaster in the world "was treated like an automobile accident. It 's a court disaster and a betrayal of [the Indian people by] the government”.
Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Women's Workers, had said earlier that "Justice will be done in Bhopal only if those people and companies responsible are punished in an exemplary manner".
24 years later, local residents continue to suffer from serious lung problems and even children born years after the drama show health problems including cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
The U.S. based Union Carbide paid a compensation of 470 million dollars to the Indian government. The plant is now abandoned but still very polluted and local environmentalists charge that the chemical residues can pollute groundwater sources and poison the drinking water for millions of people.