It’s been twenty five years since more than 3,000 people died on the night that forty tons of methyl isocynate gas leaked at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Since then an estimated 15,000 people have died of gas related illnesses, and the town is seeing the third generation of its children being born with birth defects.
And finally eight people – including senior officials from the Union Carbide factory - have been convicted of “death by negligence”. The crime carries a maximum prison sentence of two years. It remains to be seen though if these eight people will serve even that time.
This is what I don’t understand: how can someone like Mohammed Kasab, who was the lone gunmen of the Mumbai attacks be tried and convicted almost instantly in India’s ponderous justice system and get an inevitable death sentence; yet the company bosses who made the decisions that lead to thousands of tonnes of a very toxic gas to be leaked into an urban centre have been living lives of relative luxury for decades while their victims still suffer.
Thousands more died in Bhopal than in Mumbai.
Is what happened in Bhopal not a greater crime if only on the scale of destruction than what happened in Mumbai?
And you could say it was premeditated murder because the Union Carbide factory officials knew the risks they were taking simply to save a few bucks here and there. And furthermore, their crimes live on in the generations of babies being born in pain who have to be taken care of by families themselves struggling to make ends meet.
But of course the likes of Warren Anderson (the chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the accident) and Keshub Mahindra (his Indian counterpart) have the resources to hire the lawyers who can drag out the case all the way to the Supreme Court, watering down the charges along the way. Mohammed Kasab on the other hand, was a nobody, his ignorance fed by a hollow ideology to be suicide fodder.
It gives a whole new meaning on the old cliché doesn’t it – the one about justice being blind.