Indian court convicts 7 in Bhopal disaster

June 7, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy shout slogans against Warren Anderson, the head of Union Carbide Corp. at the time of the gas leak, in the premises of Bhopal court in Bhopal, India, Monday, June 7, 2010. The court on Monday convicted 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. (AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne)

Seven former executives of the Union Carbide subsidiary that operated the company’s Bhopal, India, plant have been convicted by an Indian court for negligence in the world’s worst industrial disaster.

There’s coverage in The New York Times, the BBC,  and NPR.  As the Times explained:

They were the first criminal convictions stemming from the leak at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, a central Indian city. The leak killed 3,000 people almost instantly, and thousands more later with the aftereffects of the toxic gas, an ingredient in pesticides the plant produced.

Victims groups and activists, who had sought more serious charges, immediately criticized the verdict. Death by negligence is most frequently used in deaths involving car accidents, they said. It carries a maximum two-year sentence.

In this Dec. 5, 1984 file photo, two men carry children blinded by the Union Carbide chemical pesticide leak to a hospital in Bhopal, India. An Indian court on Monday, June 7, 2010 convicted 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. (AP Photo/Sondeep Shankar, File)

The Guardian reports that Bhopal activists condemned the sentences as “insulting,” while the Wall Street Journal published a response from Union Carbide:

Union Carbide and its officials were not part of this case since the charges were divided long ago into a separate case. Furthermore, Union Carbide and its officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by UCIL.

Of course, the Bhopal disaster is linked to the Kanawha Valley — where Carbide for years operated the sister facility at Institute, and where Bayer CropScience today continues to store large amounts of methyl isocyanate, the chemical that leaked at Bhopal.

By a strange coincidence, there was an ad published the print edition of the Sunday Gazette-Mail remembering Bill Oxley, one of two Bayer workers who was killed in the Aug. 28, 2008, explosion and fire at the Institute plant. Oxley would have turned 60 on Sunday.

As readers recall, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and congressional investigators warned that the August incident could have turned out worse than Bhopal. But a more than a year after that initial report, we’re still waiting on final investigative findings from the CSB.

An elderly survivor holds a poster of Warren Anderson, the head of Union Carbide Corp. at the time of the gas leak, as she waits for the verdict in the premises of Bhopal court in Bhopal, India, Monday, June 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne)


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