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Former employees of Union Carbide India Ltd found guilty of causing death by negligence over disaster that killed at least 15,000.|
An Indian court today convicted seven former senior employees of Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary of causing "death by negligence over their part in the Bhopal gas tragedy in which an estimated 15,000 people died more than 25 years ago.
The subsidiary company, Union Carbide India Ltd – which no longer exists – was convicted of the same charge.
The former employees, many now in their 70s, face up to two years in prison. The judge has not yet announced sentences.
Large groups of survivors and relatives, along with rights activists, gathered in Bhopal, in central India. They said the verdict was too little, too late.
On 3 December 1984, about 40 tonnes of deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant run by Union Carbide into the air in Bhopal, killing about 4,000 people.
The lingering effects of the poison increased the death toll to about 15,000 over the next few years, according to government estimates.
Local activists insist the actual toll is almost twice as high, and say the company and government have failed to clean up toxic chemicals at the plant, which closed after the accident.
The verdicts – which are likely to be appealed against – came as the case crawled through India's notoriously slow judicial system.
The country's Central Bureau of Investigation had originally accused 12 defendants – eight senior Indian company officials, Warren Anderson, the head of Union Carbide Corp at the time of the gas leak, the company itself, and two subsidiary companies.
One of the Indian officials has since died. Anderson, and Union Carbide and its subsidiaries, have never appeared in court proceedings.
Union Carbide was bought by the Dow Chemical Co in 2001. Dow says the legal case was resolved in 1989 when Union Carbide settled with the Indian government for $470m (£326m), and that all responsibility for the factory now rested with the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which owns the site.