Bhopal -- A court ruled that a former chairman of US-based Union Carbide should face culpable homicide charges over the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, rejecting the Indian government's attempt to dilute them to negligence.
The ruling after a two-day hearing by Chief Magistrate Rameshwar Khote in this central Indian city represents a significant victory for victims of the disaster, who had feared former company chairman Warren Anderson would escape justice.
Khote ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had brought the application to reduce the gravity of the charges, to proceed with the culpable homicide case.
Anderson now faces the prospect of being extradited from the United States to stand trial in India, where if found guilty he faces a jail term of up to 20 years.
At least 3,000 people died when a gas leak occurred at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on December 3, 1984 and more than
half a million people were seriously injured.
At least another 10,000 deaths have been linked to the disaster, according to victims' groups, who had opposed the reduction of
Should the government have succeeded in getting the charges reduced, Anderson could have evaded trial in India as an extradition treaty between the two countries does not cover
cases of negligence.
Lawyers representing victims and their families said the government had been seeking to reduce the charges because it has been pressurized by Washington and because of its concerns not to scare off foreign investors.
The CBI argued the altered charges would bring the case against Anderson in line with Indian former company officials, who have already succeeded in having the charges diluted to negligence.
Satinath Sarangi, a member of activist organization Bhopal Group for Information and Action, recently likened the toning down of the charges to "converting the world's worst industrial disaster into a car accident."
On Tuesday, former company official Gauri Shanker told the court that safety equipment which should have prevented the leak of the lethal gas was not working and that gas storage tanks had been overfilled.
Lawyers for the victims said this evidence alone was enough to support their demands that Anderson should be made to stand trial in India on culpable homicide charges.
Former Union Carbide project engineer Umesh Nanda told the court that at the time of the disaster the management was planning to dismantle the plant, which was running huge losses.
- 181 Food and Agriculture