By Madhur Singh
As BP struggles to contain the damage the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has caused to the Gulf of Mexico and to the people whose livelihoods depend on its waters, a legal judgment in the worst industrial catastrophe in history highlights how wrong the aftermath of such disasters can go – not just in terms of a cleanup but in the matter of justice. It is a terrifying lesson in how a corporation can evade full responsibility for one of the most heinous accidents in human history.
On Monday, more than 25 years after 40 tons of highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) was released from a Union Carbide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal killing thousands in a matter of hours and over years, rendering hundreds of thousands seriously ill and causing genetic defects in yet-to-be-born generations a local court announced its verdict. It held eight former employees of Union Carbide India Ltd guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced seven of them to two years in prison and a fine of $2,100. (The eighth defendant died during the course of the 23-year trial.) The convicted former employees were out on bail of just $500 each in less than two hours. Union Carbide India, which no longer exists, was fined less than $11,000. (See the legacy of the Bhopal disaster.)