India: Bhopal Gas Tragedy Verdict – too little too late?

Women protesters in Bhopal

Women protesters in Bhopal – Image by Flickr user obbino, used under a Creative Commons License

On the night of December 2-3, 1984, India woke up to its worst industrial disaster when tonnes of the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other toxins leaked from a Union Carbide (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, resulting in large-scale exposure, thousands of deaths and maiming many more thousands for life.

More than 25 years later, a court in Bhopal has pronounced a guilty verdict on the Indian arm of Union Carbide and also convicted 8 former UCIL officials (all Indians) as being guilty under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336, 337 and 338 (gross negligence) of the Indian Penal Code. They were each sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and a fine of INR100,000 (approx. USD 2097).  UCIL has been awarded a fine of INR500,000 (approx. USD 10,483).

However, there was no mention in the verdict of Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation who skipped bail, fled the country and has been declared an absconder after he refused to return to India from the US and stand trial.

There had been a lot of speculation and anticipation since morning as people waited for a verdict that most Indians feel has come too late to offer succor and closure for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims. Twitter was abuzz with comments that reflected the people's mood – which ranged from hopeful to sceptic.

viral_gandhi11 : Ohh judgement of bhopal gas tragedy 2day ! I hope dat my frnd who lost his father in dis tragedy gets some justice, though its too late nw !

senthilkumarc :Bhopal Gas Tragedy…Judgement day today. Hope the verdict pronounced provides full justice though CBI has already weakened the case.

chaitannya : After 26 yrs… the Bhopal gas tragedy case judgment day has come. As usual the big fishes have escaped the trial

Divyeshn : Justice delayed is justice denied. @Bhopal gas tragedy verdict.

rameshsrivats : A verdict after 26 years. The real Bhopal Gas Tragedy is the hot air in the justice system.

Some netizens have been quick to draw a parallel between the long drawn Bhopal saga with the promptness with which the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill from a BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is being handled.

shahhameed : Bhopal tragedy: Indian govt shd hold Union Carbide respnsble the same way as the US is holding BP for the Oil tragedy

Reactions to the verdict have already started pouring in. People on the ground and activists who have been fighting for the cause of the victims for the last 25years feel that the government, the investigative agency and the judiciary have not only let down the people of Bhopal but have set an unhealthy precedent for the way in which big foreign companies setting up industries in the country operate, namely with little accountability.

Blogger Guhan Saravanan writes on his blog:

It took 25 years to convict eight persons and throw them behind bars for all of two years. In India, no one’s surprised – things take this long. And when it’s for an industrial disaster the magnitude of Bhopal’s, it’s only natural, because the government of India is involved. While the government and industry fought over who the onus lies on, how much was enough compensation and how the same would be disbursed, the victims continued to suffer and have not been duly compensated for till date. Demands for rehabilitation and medical care fell on deaf ears as did a review of their problems.
The Bhopal gas tragedy has turned out to be a study in contrast between humanity and human rights.

Tweets expressing reactions to the verdict have been captured below:

Mohit_Panwar : Verdict on bhopal gas tragedy today. max term is 2 years.Its like killing those innocent 15k people for second time.I stand against it.You?

parthi_trends : This verdict from the court can be considered as #Bhopal tragedy part 2..

Supriya1310 :Eight convicts in Bhopal gas leak case get two years jail after 25 yrs..wait! is it a joke??

jeyaganesh:Outrage! Bhopal gas leak culprits bailed out

shekharkapur: If ‘Bhopal’ had happened in the US, the co and all insurance co's would have been wiped out by the amt needed to be paid as compensation

savvysliver: Indian Court Convicts 7 in Bhopal Disaster, they killed thousands and leave w a slap on the wrist

AdvaitBorate:Too little too late in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy :(

When reached for their reactions to the verdict, Union Carbide washed their hands off, saying that it was UCIL and not they (i.e. Union Carbide or it's officials) who were accountable and part of this case/ under the jurisdiction of Indian courts.

As the opposition in the parliament now cite the Bhopal case to seek a re-think on the proposed controversial nuclear liability bill, columnist/journalist Madhavan Narayanan perhaps sums up the need of the hour best in this tweet:

Let us shift the paradigm from CSR to CSA: from corporate social responsibility to corporate social accountability.

Image Credit: obbino on Flickr


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