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India court hands down convictions in Bhopal gas case

An Indian court on Monday convicted seven former employees of US chemical producer Union Carbide [corporate website] on charges relating to the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder]. The seven men were convicted of "death by negligence" and sentenced to two years in prison each and ordered to pay USD $2,100. An eighth man who is now deceased was convicted in absentia. The convictions are the first related to the Bhopal disaster in which nearly 3,800 people were killed when toxic gas was accidentally released in the middle of the night by a chemical plant owned by a Union Carbide subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled. Union Carbide settled with the Indian government in 1989 for $470 million, ending their liability in the case. The Bhopal disaster has remained a significant issue, as the Indian Parliament [official website] has begun discussion on a bill [text, PDF] that would cap liability on foreign nuclear power companies operating within the country at $100 million.

The 1984 Bhopal disaster caused an international outcry over the activities of Western chemical manufacturing in India and the developing world. A number of environmental groups, including Greenpeace [advocacy website], have called for Union Carbide and its parent company, Dow Chemicals [corporate website], to be brought to justice [Greenpeace backgrounder] for the after-effects of the disaster. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] reinstated a water pollution lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by disaster victims against Union Carbide. In 2004, groups representing Bhopal victims appealed a $330 million award [JURIST report] issued by the Indian Supreme Court, arguing that the award should be quadrupled to provide enough compensation for each of the 572,173 people that the court ruled were eligible.

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