26 years after the world's worst industrial disaster that had left over 15,000 people dead, a local court on Monday in Bhopal convicted all the eight accused including former Union Carbide Chairman Keshub Mahindra in the Bhopal Gas tragedy case.
Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari pronounced the verdict in a packed court room convicting 85-year-old Mahindra, and seven others in the case relating to leakage of deadly methyl isocyanate gas in the intervening of Dec 2 and 3 1984.
They were held guilty under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336, 337 and 338 (gross negligence) of the Indian Penal Code.
However, there was no no word on Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation of the US, who was declared an absconder after he did not not subject himself to trial in the case that began 23 years ago.
Others found guilty are Vijay Gokhle, the then Managing Director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, the then Vice President, J N Mukund, the then Works Manager, S P Choudhary, the then Production Manager, K V Shetty, the then Plant Superintendent and S I Quershi, the then Production Assistant.
The sentencing in the case is expected later. Arguments on the quantum of sentence were put forward by the defence and prosecution counsel.
Except Quershi, all the seven others, including Mahindra, were present in the court. A ninth accused R B Roy Choudhary, the then former Assistant Works Manager of UCIL, Mumbai, had died during the course of the trial.
A total of 178 prosecution witnesses were examined in the trial and 3008 documents were produced while eight defence witnesses deposed in the court.
Anderson, who did not face trial, is based in the US. The companies--Union Carbide Corporation, USA and Union Carbide Eastern, Hong Kong --were also not represented in the trial.
FIR in the tragedy was filed on December 3, 1984 and the case was transferred to CBI on December 6, 1984. The CBI filed the chargesheet after investigation on December 1, 1987. Subsequently, a local court had framed charges against the accused.
CBI counsel C Sahay had argued that defective design of UCIL and its poor maintenance resulted into the tragedy that had left 2259 dead immediately after the mishap. The lingering effects of the highly poisonous methyl isocyanate killed over 15,000 people.
Sahay contended that Union Carbide Corporation, USA, in its survey of the factory in 1982 had found serious safety and maintenance lapses on nearly 10 counts.
The prosecution argued that even after UCC experts' team visit to the factory, adequate safety measures and maintenance works were not undertaken in UCIL.
A Central team, which visited the UCIL plant post-tragedy in 1984, also found lapses in safety norms and maintenance, the counsel had said.
AP adds: The subsidiary, Union Carbide India Ltd., was convicted of the same charge. But that company no longer exists.
The former employees, many of them in their 70s, face up to two years in prison.
Large groups of survivors and relatives, along with rights activists, gathered in Bhopal and chanted slogans saying the verdict was too little, too late.
Early on Dec. 3, 1984, a pesticide plant run by Union Carbide leaked about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air in the city of Bhopal in central India, quickly killing about 4,000 people. The lingering effects of the poison raised the death toll to about 15,000 over the next few years, according to government estimates.
Local activists insist the real numbers are almost twice that, and say the company and government have failed to clean up toxic chemicals at the plant, which closed after the accident.
The verdicts, which were in a local court and are likely to be appealed, came as the case crawled through India's notoriously slow and ineffective judicial system.
India'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.
Seven of the eight Indian company officials were convicted Monday. The other one has since died. Anderson and Union Carbide have never appeared in court proceedings.
Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical Co. in 2001. Dow says the legal case was resolved in 1989 when Union Carbide settled with the Indian government for $470 million, and that all responsibility for the factory now rests with the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which now owns the site.
Last July, the same court in Bhopal had issued a warrant for Anderson's arrest and also ordered the Indian government to press Washington for the American's extradition. The judge did not explain why Anderson or the American chemical company were not tried in absentia.
Anderson was briefly detained immediately after the disaster, but he quickly left the country and now lives in New York. It was not immediately clear if the Indian government had begun to process the Bhopal court's request. Extradition proceedings are usually mired in a complex tangle of legal paperwork and can take years to process.
Investigators say the accident occurred when water entered a sealed tank containing the highly reactive gas, causing pressure in the tank to rise too high.
Union Carbide Corp., an American chemical company, said the accident was an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee who was never identified. It has denied the disaster was the result of lax safety standards or faulty plant design, as claimed by some activists.
The Central Bureau of Investigation said the plant had not been following proper safety procedures.