NEW DELHI, June 8 (UPI) -- India has sentenced seven former Union Carbide employees of the chemical company to two years in prison and a fine of just more than $2,000, 26 years after the chemical company's Bhopal disaster.
Considered the world's worst industrial accident, the disaster occurred in 1984 when a cloud of toxic gas leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, killing an estimated 10,000 people within three days.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, an activist group, says that at least 100,000 people in Bhopal are still "seriously ill."
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh called the verdict "very unsatisfactory," and said his ministry would focus on strictly implementing the country's 1986 Environment Protection Act "so that future Bhopals don't occur."
Ramesh said that about 325 tons of toxic waste is still at the site and about 45 tons had been done away with so far.
"More than 15,000 people are killed and the punishment is just two years in prison. How could that be?" said Syed M. Irfan of an activist group for Bhopal victims, reports The Christian Science Monitor. "The verdict sends a message to international companies that they could set up shop in India and get away with anything."
After first suing Union Carbide for $3.3 billion in 1985, the Indian government reached an out-of-court settlement of $470 million with the company in 1989.
India's Law Minister Veerappa Moily said that the case against former Union Carbide Chief Executive Officer Warren Anderson isn't closed. Anderson, Moily said, "has absconded and was declared a proclaimed offender."
The Bhopal verdict calls attention to India's Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, re-introduced last month amid stiff resistance from opposition and left parties.
The bill would cap at $450 million a foreign company's liability in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant.
"In light of (the) bitter experience of Bhopal, the government should reconsider the nuclear bill seriously," Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters Tuesday.
"The bill, as envisaged, puts any criminal liability only on the nuclear operator, in case of a nuclear accident.
"We urge the government not to rush with the crucial legislation."
Last September, India announced it aims to boost its nuclear energy capacity by 12,000 percent by 2050.
"This is a wake-up call for the people in this country," said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, the Monitor reports. "This is not just about Bhopal. Tomorrow, if there is a nuclear disaster, people will be treated worse because a U.S. company cannot be held liable."