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India court hears call for harsher Bhopal sentences

by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) April 13, 2011
India's Supreme Court began hearing a government petition on Wednesday seeking harsher sentences for seven company managers jailed last year over the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.

The suit filed by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) calls for the seven executives to be tried on a charge of "culpable homicide not amounting to murder," which carries a jail term of 10 years.

In 1996 the apex court had ruled that the defendants could only be tried on the lesser charge of negligence.

Following their eventual conviction in June last year, all seven, including former Union Carbide India Ltd chairman Keshub Mahindra, were each handed two-year jail terms, triggering a national outcry.

Appearing for the CBI, India's Attorney General Ghoolam Vahanvati argued that there had been "serious omissions" on the part of the plant management.

The plant design was faulty, Vahanvati said, and despite a gas leakage before the 1984 disaster, the necessary steps were not taken to improve maintenance and storage.

The Bhopal accident, blamed on Union Carbide, a US chemical group that ran the plant, killed thousands instantly and tens of thousands more from its lingering effects over the following years.

The pesticide plant leaked toxic gas into neighbouring slums.

In the wake of the June sentences, India also said it would push the United States to extradite the ageing former chief executive of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, who is wanted in India for his role in the tragedy.

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