Disasters & Accidents

Justice evades India’s chemical leak 10 years after first criminal conviction

By Indira Guerrero

New Delhi, June 7 (efe-epa).- Survivors of a catastrophic1984 gas leak in India that killed thousands continue to battle for justice, 10 years after some of the accused in the horrifying disaster at a North American pesticide plant walked free with two-year prison sentences and small fines for causing negligence.

Over 5,000 people were killed in the world’s worst industrial disaster on Dec.2, 1984, and the first criminal convictions from the leak at the chemical plant of Union Carbide in the central Indian city of Bhopal came more than half a century later on June 7, 2010.

Even after two-year prison sentences and $2,500 fines, the eight convicted Indian officials of the United States-headquartered chemical plant didn’t spend a day in prison since they were granted bail and released immediately after their sentencing.

“It is said that justice is blind, and you really can see how blinded justice is in this case because she doesn’t see us,” Rashida Appa, one of the known faces of the Bhopal survivors battle for justice, told EFE.

The pre-dawn leak at the plant released an estimated 42 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas that converted the historic city into a gas chamber for thousands of its sleeping residents.

Hundreds lay dead instantly as they tried to flee their houses and bodies were scattered on the streets, Rashida recalled the horror.

Some 3,500 people died immediately, and other 2,000 in the days after the accident, according to government data. Half a million of 850,000 city residents at the time were affected by the gas leak.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, led by a group of victims and activists, told EFE that 22,000 people have died in the last three and half decades due to various causes attributable to the toxicity left by the leak. There are over 150,000 who survived with severe disabilities.

Union Carbide paid a $470 one time million settlement for the accident and each victim got an average of $500.

Rachna Dhingra, spokesperson of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, lamented the travesty of justice saying none of the accused went to prison “for even an hour”.

“All the convicts were treated like very special people,” Dhingra told EFE.

In the last 10 years, the victims have appealed the decision at several levels of the judiciary and contest the lighter sentence given to the accused.

“These people enjoy an independent and free life after killing more than 25,000 people, these people have got a truly comfortable life, ” Dhingra said.

Apart from the eight executives, Warren M. Anderson, CEO of the Union Carbide Corporation at the time of the accident, was never extradited from the United States. He died at 92 in his New York home on 29 Sep 2014.

The activists and victims directly hold to the owners responsible for the mayhem, saying the safety measures at the plant were overlooked to reduce its construction cost by 30 percent.

ICJB said that the company did not have pressure and temperature sensors installed at the plant.

The impact of the leak poisoned the air, soil, and the water of the city, particularly in the areas near the plant complex where the toxic levels were seven times higher than the unaffected areas.

“Things have changed a lot for Bhopal since then. Many are having breathing issues and other health problems. We are not able to do our work the way we used to do earlier,” Rashida, 64, said.

Reports cited by ICJB say that the rate of birth defects in the affected areas is ten times higher than the rest of India. Add to that the significantly higher cases of cancer and other diseases in the city.

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