New York, London: The verdict delivered by a lower court on the Bhopal gas tragedy 25 years after the event with the main accused, an American chairman, still absconding has drawn universal condemnation. The verdict has been condemned as a travesty of justice and the Indian government and judiciary are being held up as the parties mainly responsible.
25 years after the tragedy a lower court convicted eight people as responsible for the world's worst industrial disaster and sentenced them to two years in prison. All the seven accused, with one of the accused having died in the course of the trial, were also promptly released on bail. It is estimated that more than 20,000 people died as a result of the gas tragedy on the night and morning of 2-3 December1984 and over 500,000 affected by the release of poisonous gas from the pesticide producing factory of Union Carbide located in Bhopal.
Commenting on the judgement, UK paper, The Times, London, said, "Nor has the US emerged with great honour blocking India's requests to extradite Warren Anderson, the elderly former chairman of the Indian subsidiary, leaving the prosecution with only local managers to pursue. But the greatest censure should fall on the Indian government itself, for a casual, callous and confused approach to corporate liability, which the passage of decades has done too little to improve. It accepted the 1989 settlement (directed by the Supreme Court of India) too easily, even though the human suffering was still highly visible and extensive, and decontamination unaddressed.''
It goes on to note that in the case of the pending nuclear liability bill the Indian government shows all the tendencies to carry on where it had left off in the case of Bhopal. ''Most seriously - as it has the shown in the Civil Liabilities for Nuclear Damage Bill, now before Parliament - it continues to set a low bar on liability in order to attract foreign companies and governments. Under the Bill, a central part of the controversial 2008 nuclear pact with the US, liability for nuclear disaster would be capped at $460 million - far below likely clean-up costs. In the US, each nuclear plant is required to pay into a fund that could pay out some $10 billion.''
In a separate commentary The Times lambasted Indian courts for being incredibly slow and pointed out that the verdict showed clearly that it was possible for the wealthy to outwit the Indian judiciary.
''The result is that the rich and powerful are usually able to hire expensive and often unscrupulous lawyers to fast-track or delay their cases indefinitely, and manipulate the system to avoid serious punishment.''
European papers and opinion makers have expressed their dismay over the verdict as well and expressed similar sentiments.