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Indian court finds chemical execs guilty in Bhopal disaster

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
June 7, 2010 -- Updated 0651 GMT (1451 HKT)

  • NEW: Top chemical company executives guilty of causing death by negligence
  • Nearly 4,000 people died instantly during 1984 gas leak
  • Hundreds of thousands of survivors report adverse health effects
  • Union Carbide paid settlement of $470 million to India in 1989

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- A court in central India ruled Monday that eight top executives of now defunct Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary are guilty for their role in the 1984 industrial disaster that killed thousands in Bhopal, India.
The leaking of poisonous gas from the local plant of the American chemical company was one of the world's worst industrial disasters. And plaintiffs had waited more than two decades for the verdict.
No additional information about the judge's ruling was immediately available.
The executives could face a jail term of up to two years and could also be required to pay a fine, prosecutors said during the trial.
Indian industrialist Keshub Mahindra, then head of Union Carbide India Limited, and seven others have been charged with causing death by negligence.
Last year, the trial court also issued a warrant of arrest for Warren Anderson, the former chairman of the US-based Union Carbide Corporation. He has been declared an "absconder" -- or a fugitive -- from the indictment, prosecuting attorney C. Sahay said.
Nearly 4,000 people died instantly when a milky fog of methyl isocyanate, a chemical used to produce pesticides, escaped from the company's plant in Bhopal in December 1984. More than 10,000 other deaths have been blamed on related illnesses, with adverse health effects reported in hundreds of thousands of survivors.
Many of them struggle with ailments including breathlessness, cancer, near-blindness, fatigue heart problems and tuberculosis.
Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., paid a $470 million settlement to India in 1989. The company blamed the disaster on an act of sabotage and has said it no longer has any liability.
But according to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, survivors have received an average of only $500 each in compensation.
Union Carbide says neither the parent company nor its officials are subject to the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
Indian authorities blamed the tragedy on the maintenance and design of the site.
The company, however, has denied the charges, insisting the leak was an act of sabotage by an employee who it said had tampered with the gas tank.
Union Carbide has also defended its safety record.
"The (Bhopal) plant addressed all of those (safety) issues well before the December 1984 gas leak. None of them had anything to do with the incident," the company says on its Bhopal Information Center Web site.
But activists and survivors have long been demanding that somebody be held criminally responsible for the disaster, and criticizing Indian officials for their response.
"The government does not want to discourage foreign investors," said Abdul Jabbar, convener of the Bhopal Gas-Affected Working Womens' Union, who claims the Indian government has attempted to protect the multinational company.
The toxic leak, he said, has affected more than 575,000 people.
On the 25th anniversary of the gas leak last year, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh called the events in Bhopal in 1984 a "tragedy of neglect."
"The leakage resulted in over 5,000 people losing their lives and many others being incapacitated permanently. The enormity of that tragedy of neglect still gnaws at our collective conscience," he said.
He said the government implemented several measures to provide relief, medical rehabilitation and to improve to living conditions of affected families.
"I reaffirm our government's commitment to resolving issues of safe drinking water, expeditious clean up of the site, continuation of medical research, and any other outstanding issues connected with the Bhopal gas tragedy," he said.
Sixteen years after the leak, Union Carbide became part of the Dow Chemical Corporation. Union Carbide claims the issue has been resolved and Dow has no responsibility for the leak.
"There were no liabilities for Dow to inherit through Union Carbide on the Bhopal gas release. Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide in 2001, more than a decade after Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million," Union Carbide's Bhopal website says.

Myra Bronstein

Ed Jewett Wrote:Indian court finds chemical execs guilty in Bhopal disaster...

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Indian court finds chemical execs :rofl: "guilty" :rofl: in Bhopal disaster

The Unabridged Globalized Dictionary defines "guilty" as: Innocent by reason of affluency.
The Unabridged Globalized Dictionary looks like something we must have for the 'Books' board and something that needs a much wider audience. :marchmellow: