Victims and activists were Monday furious that eight officials of Union Carbide had been convicted for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster only for criminal negligence, which is punishable with a maximum of two years jail, despite the enormity of the tragedy.
"Today's verdict is a disaster... they've made it look like a traffic accident," said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, an NGO representing the survivors and an activist who has been involved with the victims since the 1984 disaster.
"The charges have been diluted. The victims are disappointed," he said.
A court here held eight former officials of Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) guilty of criminal negligence in the world's worst industrial disaster and sentenced them to two years imprisonment. It also imposed a fine of Rs.100,000 on the eight.
The eight include Keshub Mahindra, who then headed UCIL, from whose pesticide plant here tonnes of lethal gas leaked on Dec 2-3, 1984 night, killing thousands instantly and many more later.
Sarangi accused the Indian authorities of lacking the political will to go after Warren Anderson, who headed Union Carbide, the parent company in the US.
"The message is going out that peoples' lives don't matter, what matters is foreign direct investment (FDI). You can kill people, maim them for life and get away almost scot-free," he said.
Said an angry survivor of the tragedy: "We have lost our kith and kin... our land, water and air remain polluted. Our kids have multiple health disorders. But the accused will manage to get away with a mere two years in jail. Do you call this justice?”
“The prime minister and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) should be ashamed of themselves... The government and Union Carbide are hand in glove in this disaster. This is absolute injustice,” she fumed.
D. Rukmani, who continues to shuttle from one hospital to the other for her 52-year-old husband's treatment, lamented that the compensation they got was also too little.
“We are suffering from the after-effects of the leak. Whatever little we earn is spent in treatment... we got two instalments of Rs.2,500... it was nothing,” Rukmani told IANS.
Rashida Bi of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karamchari Sangh told IANS: "This is complete injustice done to the 25,000 dead. It is a shameful verdict. We are extremely disappointed."
She alleged that the fundamental rights of the families of those who have suffered because of Union Carbide were violated by keeping them away from the court room.
"We will definitely appeal to the higher courts. If the prime minister is even a little concerned about our welfare, he should take action," said Rashida Bi, a survivor and an activist.
"Warren Anderson should be brought to India and imprisoned for at least 20 years," she added.
Said Sayed M. Irfan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha: “We were eager to know the verdict. But as usual our expectations were futile."
“We have become like footballs... being kicked from Bhopal to Delhi and Delhi to Bhopal.”