Lessons Not Learnt Lessons Not Learnt - Edit Page - Opinion - Home - The Times of India The facts speak for themselves. Twenty-six years after the country's worst industrial disaster in the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, which killed around 4,000 people immediately and several thousands over the years, a trial court sentenced seven of the accused to two years in jail. The accused, all former employees of Union Carbide, were out on bail immediately. This is an all-too-familiar story of the Indian state and its law-enforcement agencies failing to deliver justice. Be it the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or the 1992 Ayodhya demolition, the state has been unable to either punish the perpetrators or adequately compensate victims. The tortuous legal history of the Union Carbide disaster is replete with missteps, collusion and plain inefficiency on the part of different state agencies. A few months after the tragedy, the Indian government had filed a claim of $3.3 billion in US courts against Union Carbide. After a US district court transferred all litigation to India, the government in 1989 settled for a measly $470 million compensation in an out-of-court deal which worked out to under Rs 75,000 each for death victims and about Rs 25,000 for the injured. Moreover, more than 15 years later the government hadn't disbursed the entire compensation. The courts were equally lax in trying the perpetrators. The main accused, former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, was declared a fugitive in 1992 and has never appeared in an Indian court. Furthermore, in 1996, the Supreme Court reduced the charges against the accused from culpable homicide not amounting to murder, punishable by a maximum 10-year jail term, to causing death by negligence, which invites a sentence of only two years. The Bhopal gas tragedy highlights the gap in Indian law regarding industrial and environmental disasters. Provisions of the Indian Penal Code such as Section 304A, which deal with death due to negligence, are too mild for disasters of the scale of the Bhopal gas plant. Law minister Veerappa Moily has said as much. We need better and more stringent laws for environmental disasters and for industries using hazardous substances. This has become even more pressing with the possibility of several nuclear power plants coming up across the country. The Union Carbide case will continue its tryst with the Indian judicial system with the victims planning to move a higher court. However, the greater tragedy is that there is little attention paid to environmental and safety norms in large industries and factories. Bhopal is a grim reminder of the heavy price ordinary people pay for such callousness.