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India high court denies harsher sentences in Bhopal gas case

The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Wednesday dismissed [order, PDF] a government petition to impose harsher sentences on those convicted for their role in the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Seven former employees of US chemical producer Union Carbide [corporate website] were convicted [JURIST report] in June on charges of "death by negligence" and sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay USD $2,100. The sentences were decried as too lenient, and the Supreme Court agreed in August to reconsider a 1996 ruling [JURIST report] allowing the accused to be charged with negligence instead of culpable homicide. The Supreme Court, however, found Wednesday that there was no reason to overturn the 1996 ruling, dismissing the petition.

The convictions were 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. In November, the Indian government announced that it had authorized additional compensation [JURIST report] for the victims of the chemical spill. The new package includes USD $15.8 million, adding to the original disbursement in June of USD $148 million. In July, the Indian government apologized for improperly dumping waste [JURIST report] related to the Bhopal incident.

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