India Jails Seven in Bhopal Gas Tragedy

An Indian court has sentenced seven people to two years in prison in connection with the Bhopal gas leak disaster that killed thousands of people more than 25 years ago.

The Bhopal tragedy is considered the world's worst industrial disaster. Deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant on December 2 and 3 in 1984 settling over the surrounding areas. The number of dead is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000.

The seven accused, including former Union Carbide chairman Keshub Mahindra, were sentenced for causing "death by negligence." Mahindra, now chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, India's largest SUV maker, could not be reached for comment.

Advocates for the victims say that as a result of the leak, Bhopal has an unusually high rate of illnesses including cancer, diabetes and a high incidence of children with birth defects.

For many, the conviction is only a minor victory considering the tremendous loss and destruction in the city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India.

"It's a great travesty of justice," Prashant Bhushan, a public service lawyer based in New Delhi, told ABC News. Bhushan was a lawyer for the victims from 1988 to 1995, but finally resigned, citing "fatigue" from the seemingly endless case.

Bhushan said that even today the Indian government has still not learned from the problems of "compromised safety standards" that led to the tragedy.

"In their unholy drive to attract these multinational corporations the Indian government has developed extremely lax attitudes towards the damage which could potentially be with hazardous activities that could be dangerous to India," he said. Bhushan cited India's push for nuclear power as an example of such attitudes.

India's Central Bureau of Investigation initially charged 12 people with "culpable homicide not amounting to murder." That charge carried a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison -- but India's Supreme Court reduced the charges to "death by negligence."

All seven convicted were senior officials at Union Carbide at the time of the disaster. The company was absorbed by The Dow Chemical Co. in 2001.

Most Bhopal Victims Got $1,280 in Compensation

In 2005, Union Carbide paid $470 million in compensation to the Indian government. The Indian court divided the money among approximately 570,927 survivors, most of whom received $1,280.

Warren Anderson, then chairman of the Union Carbide Corp. of the U.S., was declared an absconder in the case. Anderson, as well as Union Carbide Corporation, U.S.A. and Union Carbide Eastern, Hong Kong, were not represented in the trial.

In the aftermath of the gas disaster, Indians called for Anderson's extradition and the Indian government has been criticized for taking 19 years to formally request it. In 2004 the U.S. rejected India's request for extradition, saying it did not meet the requirements of the bilateral extradition treaty.