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Indians outraged by Bhopal gas verdict prepare counterpunch

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Activists planning their legal strategy in the higher courts say they will ask that the sentences on the charges don't run concurrently, to extend imprisonment of the officials to four years. They are also appealing the 500,000 rupee (a little over $10,000) fine on Union Carbide of India Limited (UCIL).

How much legal recourse they have is unclear since the court gave the maximum possible punishment for the charges. Many lawyers and activists trace Monday's verdict to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1996 to reduce the charges from culpable homicide, which carries a punishment of up to 10 years, to criminal negligence.

The Bhopal gas disaster was instrumental in bringing in new and stricter Indian laws dealing with environmental disasters and the storage and transport of hazardous materials, says prominent environmental lawyer Shyam Divan. "It was a shock to the system, and we are much better off now in terms of the legislative framework at least.”

But they can't be applied retrospectively, he continues. The Bhopal case had to be tried under "the old regime, which was inadequate."

Holding foreigners to account

Activists are also asking the Indian government to set up a special prosecution cell to help bring foreign accused to justice. American Warren Anderson, the former head of Union Carbide, the US parent company, was also accused in the case but was never extradited from the US to face the charges in India. An “absconder” in the eyes of the courts here, he is a particular point of anger for Indians, with his absence feeding the idea that foreign multinationals are not accountable for their actions in the country.

Revisiting the nuclear bill

This anger also drives much of the opposition to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, which would set the protocols for India’s civil nuclear commerce.

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