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India: First Convictions in Bhopal Case

(June 9, 2010) On June 7, 2010, a court in India convicted seven men of “death by negligence” in the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster. These were the first convictions related to the event that killed nearly 19,000 people; 50,000 others were permanently disabled as a result of their exposure to the toxic gas that was released by the accident. The defendants, together with an additional person who has died in the intervening years and was convicted in absentia, are all former employees of the U.S. company Union Carbide. Each defendant was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and a fine of US$2,100. (Hillary Stempel, India Court Hands Down Convictions in Bhopal Gas Case, PAPERCHASE NEWSBURST, June 7, 2010, available at
.) The company had paid a settlement of US$470 million to the Government of India in 1989. (Id.; for background on the disaster, see, for example, One Night in Bhopal, BBC NEWS, Dec. 2, 2009, available at

The disaster continues to be a focus of interest and controversy, with attention paid to both the procedure and the outcome of this trial. Minister of Law and Justice, M. Veerappa Moily, has pointed to the long time it took for this case to be prosecuted as an example of the need for fast-track prosecutions in similar incidents. He stated:

I would say that the Bhopal gas disaster is more than a murder and this kind of negligence cannot go unpunished. [There are] lots of lessons to be learnt from this… these things should not be open for interpretation. This is one such case where justice is delayed and practically denied. I would like to say justice is buried. … A disaster of this kind must be dealt with properly. We have to revisit…so that these kind [sic] of offences are not repeated. (Government to Fast-Track Bhopal Gas Case in HC: Moily, INDIA TODAY, June 7, 2010, available at

Others have paid as much attention to the relatively light sentences. “A two-year sentence is no justice when so many people died,” was the statement of one engineer. (Bhopal Voices: 'Justice Denied,' BBC NEWS, June 7, 2010, available at Many expressed the view that Warren Anderson, who was the Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation at the time of the disaster, should have been tried. (Id.; INDIA TODAY, supra.)