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India

Prison terms for eight convicted over 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy

Reuters

Twenty-five years after the world's worst industrial catastrophe, an Indian court has sentenced eight former executives to two years in jail over the Bhopal gas leak that poisoned tens of thousands of people. Among them was the chairman of the Indian unit of US group Union Carbide, Keshub Mahindra.

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All eight were ordered to pay a fine of 1,750 euros each for their role in the disaster, in which a plume of gas escaped from a storage tank at the US-run Union Carbide pesticide factory on 3 December, 1984, instantly killing thousands.

The eight convicted were originally charged with culpable homicide but, but the Supreme Court in 1996 reduced the charges to death by negligence with maximum imprisonment of just two years.

"Even with the guilty judgement, what does two years punishment mean?" Sadhna Karnik, of the Bhopal Gas Victims Struggle group, told AFP.

"They will be able to appeal against the judgment in higher courts."

Government figures put the death toll at 3,500 within the first three days, but independent data by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) puts the figure at between 8,000 and 10,000 for the same period.

The ICMR has said that until 1994, 25,000 people also died from the consequences of gas exposure.

Government statistics compiled after 1994 concluded that at least 100,000 people living near the factory in central Madhya Pradesh state were chronically sick, with more than 30,000 residing in areas with contaminated water.

Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide in 1999, but says all liabilities related to the accident were cleared in a 470-million-dollar out-of-court settlement with the Indian government in 1989.

The company said at the time and continues to insist that sabotage was behind the leak, but the victims have long fought for it to provide further compensation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement marking the 25th anniversary, describing Bhopal as a tragedy that "still gnaws at our collective conscience" and vowing continued efforts to tackle the issues of drinking water and site decontamination.
 

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