The court verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy was “a crime,” a “travesty of justice” and has shaken people’s faith in the justice system, Church leaders in India said today.
The verdict that came 25 years after the tragedy showed an “indifference to the suffering of the poor and gullible,” says Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
A trial court in Bhopal found eight former senior employees of Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary guilty of the world’s worst industrial disaster sentencing them to two years imprisonment and imposing fines of 100,000 rupees (US$2,200) each.
Warren Anderson, the American head of the company at the time, fled the country soon after the disaster and now lives in New York.
Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur says such delays and the lenient verdicts would force people to look to criminals to get justice. He called for immediate change in the system to try criminal cases.
The prelate and Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, want a new law to deal with such disasters.
Bhopal is the capital of the central Indian state.
The federal and state governments were not serious about getting justice for the victims, according to Father Muttungal.
The main drawback, he added, was the failure to try the Union Carbide chairman Anderson.
Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India, says the legal process in the case was “travesty of justice.”
“We feel humiliated by such a failed process of seeking justice,” said the Montfort Brother who directs the conference of more than 125,000 Catholic Religious in the country.
Brother Mekkunnel also said many Religious were involved in relief and rehabilitation programs among the survivors during the past 25 years.
The verdict gave the impression that the law either lost its course or “did not know how to handle such a complex and powerful case.”
The verdict, he says, is not the “end of the story,” but a beginning of a new awakening to find justice and make those responsible for the tragedy accountable.
Father Joseph agreed and said India requires a better industrial policy that focuses on workers’ safety and security, especially when many transnational firms are setting up units in the country.