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Bhopal verdict: Survivors furious, want death penalty

Emotions ran high among relatives and survivors of the victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal as they demanded capital punishment.

Bhopal: Emotions ran high among relatives
and survivors of the victims of the world’s worst industrial
disaster in Bhopal as they demanded capital punishment after
eight senior officials of the Union Carbide were convicted
today only of death due to criminal negligence.

"It is black day for Bhopal gas victims," was the
refrain of the survivors after the verdict court of a local
court, as they grimly recalled the night of death in Bhopal
nearly 26 years back when a cloud of deadly gases exploded
out of a faulty tank in a pesticide factory and silently
spread into the homes of sleeping people.

A mood of despondency and disappointment hung over some
of the worst affected areas following the verdict giving the
maximum two-year punishment to the accused after a
23-year-old trial.

"Hang the guilty," screamed several furious survivors
of the industrial disaster on the intervening night of
December 2-3,1984 who have symbolically awarded "death
penalty" to the accused and hanged their effigies at public
places in Bhopal.

Thousands of people were killed and maimed when the
deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other toxins leaked
from the Union Carbide plant.

Hamida Bi, a survivor and a member of Bhopal Gas Peedith
Mahila Udyog Sanghathan, said, "I want that the accused
should be hanged for the endless woes caused to us." Hamida
was then 28-year-old with an 11-month-old baby.

"We are preparing the effigies of the accused of the
world’s worst industrial disaster and hanging them at
different squares as it gives us some solace from our
sufferings,” said Shamshad Bi, another survivor who lost her
only five-year-old-son and mother-in-law in the gas tragedy.

"We lived in JPNagar, just opposite the Union Carbide
factory (now defunct) when the toxic gas leaked," Shamshad,
who was then 23-year-old, recalled.

Hamida Bi said, "In all, we will be hanging nearly 64
effigies of the accused, including that of Warren Anderson,
the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, USA, who had
been declared an absconder in the case."

"We prepare these effigies with our meagre resources and
hanging them gives us some peace of mind," Hamida said.

"I lost my grand daughter to the toxic gas. Due to the
gas leak affects I have lost around 35 relatives till date,"
she said amid sobs.

"We don’t want any financial compensation; we want the
accused to be sent to the gallows," said Shanti Devi (70), who
lost her husband in the tragedy, said.

Last month, Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan Tiwari set
June 7 to pronounce the judgement.

During the trial, 178 prosecution witnesses were examined
and 3,008 documents exhibited. CBI has blamed the tragedy on
the factory’s defective design and poor maintenance.

Criminal charges were pressed against a total of eight
accused, all officials of the company. These include Keshub
Mahendra and Vijay Gokhle, then Chairman and Managing
Director. They were charged on several counts, causing death
by negligence among them, but not on any charge that carries
death penalty.

Although no official count of casualties has ever been
done, estimates based on hospital and rehabilitation records
show that about 20,000 people died and about 5.7 lakh suffered
bodily damage, making it by far the world’s worst industrial
disaster ever.

Many who breathed the highly toxic cocktail that night
suffered a horrible death with multiple organ failure. Those
who survived have suffered multiple diseases for 25 years. A
report of the Gas Tragedy Relief Department of the state says
that the morbidity rate (occurrence of ailments) is nearly 20
per cent among gas-affected persons compared to about 5 per
cent among the unaffected population.

Following the disaster, there was an international outcry
for relief for the victims and punishment to those responsible
for the gas leakage. The pesticide plant from where the gas
leaked belonged to Union Carbide India, a subsidiary of the
US-based Union Carbide Company. They were asked to pay
compensation and arrange for medical treatment.

The matter immediately got embroiled in legal controversies. Thus began a long and painful struggle of the victims for compensation,
medical attention and rehabilitation that has spluttered along
for a quarter century.


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