A court here on Monday convicted all the seven accused, including the former chairman of Union Carbide, Keshub Mahindra, in the Bhopal gas tragedy case and awarded them a maximum of two years' imprisonment.

They were released on bail later in the evening.

The verdict came 26 years after the tragedy on the night of December 2-3, 1984 ravaged the city, killing over 3,000 people immediately and thousands more in the following months.

Dozens of tonnes of poisonous methylisocyanate gas leaked out from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant and over 35,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the leak, according to rights activists.

Warren Anderson, chairman of the U.S.-based Union Carbide group, who was named an ‘accused' in the tragedy, was absconding throughout the trial period. Interestingly, the court did not mention his name on Monday.

The judgment pronounced by Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P. Tiwari convicted Mr. Mahindra, production assistant S.I. Quereshi, production manager S.P. Choudhary, plant superintendent K.V. Shetty, manager J.N. Mukund, vice-president Kishore Kumar and managing director Vijay Gokhale.

The eighth accused is the UCIL. The ninth accused, R.B. Roychoudhary, died in the course of trial.

The accused were convicted under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 304(II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336, 337 and 338 (gross negligence) of the IPC.

Hundreds examined

The trial, which ran for over 23 turbulent years, saw the examination of hundreds of prosecution-side witnesses and deposition by eight defence-side witnesses before over a dozen judges. Documents running into thousands of pages were produced during the trial.

The FIR was lodged on December 3, 1984 and the CBI filed the charge sheet on December 1, 1987.

The prosecution charged the company with not heeding the feedback on inadequate safety norms and reports about other maintenance lapses.

Terming the verdict a “delayed-thus-denied justice,” NGO workers and activists said the $470 million paid by Union Carbide 20 years ago could never draw the veil over the heinous crime committed by the corporate giant.

Protest by victims

PTI reports:

Disappointed with the verdict, scores of gas victims staged a protest on the court premises and raised slogans against Mr. Anderson.

Reacting to the judgment, the U.S.-based company said neither it nor its officials were subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court as they were not involved in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by the UCIL.

Correction

In the above report, there was an error in the eighth paragraph that stated the charges under which the accused were convicted — “ Section 304(II) culpable homicide …”. The accused were charged under 304(II) culpable homicide but the Supreme Court had diluted the charges to 304A in a 1996 order.