Monday, June 7, 2010

Justice delayed in India

It's hard to know what to think about news from India that seven former employees of Union Carbide, the U.S. chemical giant that owned the plant in Bhopal blamed for the world's worst industrial accident, had been sentenced to jail terms for negligence. The seven plant officials received two-years in jail and fines of 100,000 rupees, about $2,100 in U.S. currency, in contrast to the severity of the 1984 accident, which killed at more than 3,000 people immediately and as many as 25,000 in subsequent years, according to the Reuters international news service. The former Union Carbide subsidiary that owned the plant, Union Carbide India Ltd., was fined 500,000 rupees for the release of toxic gases near Bhopal's teeming slums. Union Carbide has since paid $479 million in fines to the Indian government, was acquired by Dow Chemical Co., and sold its stake in the Indian subsidiary to another company, which renamed it Eveready Industries. But it isn't very hard to empathize with hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the Bhopal courthouse to complain that the sentences were too light and took far too long -- more than 25 years -- to be handed down. Some of the protesters carried signs that said "hang the guilty" and "they are traitors of the nation," Reuters said. "They may have been punished, but what about us? There are so many of us who have not received any compensation," one of the victims, Shanta Bai, told Reuters. Activists told Reuters that as many as 100,000 people who were exposed to the toxic gases suffer from cancer, blindness, immune and neurological disorders, and female reproductive disorders, and that some women living near the plant gave birth to children with birth defects.

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