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June 07, 2010- Finally after 25 years or so, Union Carbide’s Bhopal Gas accident case (perhaps the worst chemical industrial accident until now involving the release of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) that killed thousands of people and maimed or disabled thousands) has finally resulted in convictions. Seven people were judged “guilty” due to negligence. They include the then Chairman of the company, the then Vice President of Manufacturing and other such worthies, including a plant shop floor supervisor. The number of Union Carbide executives and employees that were being prosecuted were actually eight, but one of them died of natural causes during the long winded trial.
The punishments seem petty in comparison with the scale of the disaster. Two years of prison plus a $2100 fine. The convicted persons can appeal to a higher court. News reports quoted Sati Nath Sarangi, an advocate for the victims, as “the world’s worst industrial disaster reduced to a traffic accident”, since the charges that were brought to bear were defined as “death due to negilgence” (often cited in fatal traffic accidents in India). Human Rights groups and others advocating the victims interests wanted more stringent laws to apply.
Though the punishments may seem minor, but they do seem to have set a trend-that of holding the company’s top management at that time responsible for accidents in the plant. This should stir into action, many such chairmen and members of the boards of chemical companies (and others that also have hazardous processes like nuclear power) to audit their own backyards. Some of them are only vaguely aware of what goes on in their plants on the shopfloor, they being more concerned with quarterly results and the opinion of stock analysts. They should put some talented people back into engineering and operations, which have seen a steady deterioration in many companies.
Opinions and comments are welcome as usual!