SUNITA VAKIL The trial court verdict in the Bhopal gas disaster case is bound to be seen as a punishment for the victims, rather than the accused. If ever there was travesty of justice, this was it. The convicts got away with just two years of imprisonment in the worlds worst industrial disaster in which nearly 4,000 people died and tens of thousands were disabled. Whats more, the judiciary took 26 years to pronounce its verdict converting the Bhopal gas tragedy case into a traffic accident. The corporate bigwigs are already out on bail, reinforcing the fact that power and money play a big role in our country. The judgment is a cruel joke on the victims and their kin. Surely, a paltry term of two years along with a fine of Rs 2 lakh is too little a punishment for killing people. One may ask, has justice really been done to the men, women and children who died painful deaths? Indeed, the verdict has brought more disappointment than relief to the victims. As for them, the judgment has been more killing than the 1984 tragedy itself. Considering the magnitude of disaster and the number of deaths, the light punishment and the probable escape of the chief accused are all cause for serious concern. The laughable punishment, which makes a mockery of justice in our country, epitomises how justice can be delayed or denied to the needy. The constitution may grant equality to all but in reality, some are more equal than others in the eyes of the law. Mondays judgment reflects poorly as much on the lower judiciary as our ailing criminal justice system. The fact that the various wings of the government colluded with foreign investors to get away with almost anything in India speaks volumes for the moral impoverishment of our establishment and country. But the verdict is not only about justice delayed and denied, its also about the fact that there is no sense of justice left for the poor of this country. While it is for the judiciary to decide whether justice has been really done in this particular case, it would be in order to underscore the fact that the devastating gas tragedy continues to take its toll to this day. Thousands more have died from long-term exposure. The toxicity of the gas still resides in the people of Bhopal in the form of falling vision congenital malformations and respiratory disorders. Those born with disabilities and suffering long-term disorders have been left to fend for themselves. While the government and the industry fought over the accountability question, victims continued to suffer. Their cries for rehabilitation and medical care fell on deaf ears. They have not been paid adequate compensation till date. The state as well as central government has been blissfully ignorant of their fate. And still our government is keen to talk about the Nuclear Liability Bill. In the backdrop of the Bhopal tragedy verdict, the centres move to dilute the bill by deleting the clause allowing US suppliers to be sued for damages in case of accident due to negligence on their part looks not only ridiculous, but also insensitive. It seems that the government has scant regard for the safety of its citizens. The very fact that the short and long-term horrific damages caused to human lives, as well as the Environment, continues to have an adverse impact to this day should serve as an eye-opener for the UPA government. The hurry with which the government wishes to see the passage of the bill demonstrates that the UPA is buckling under US pressure. But the Indian administration seriously needs to learn a lesson from the US. It is outrageous that the country has shown double standards by heavily penalising BP for the oil spill disaster but at the same time, it has not moved even a finger to help India get justice for the Bhopal disaster victims. Further, Washington has ruled out any further review of the investigation into the tragedy and there is not the remotest chance of bringing Anderson to India for trial. It is astonishing that the government has sought to dilute the bill, especially after the recent judgment, which is like adding insult to the inquiry. The story of people in powerful places trying to suppress evidence and justice is sickeningly familiar. How often have we seen politicians and law enforcement agencies using their clout to subvert justice? Of course it is a mockery that officials of the Union carbide should have got away with a rap on their knuckles, but that is only one episode of an all too familiar story of the Indian state and its delay and denial of justice. Be it the 1984 anti Sikh riots or 1992 Ayodhaya demolition. The Bhopal gas tragedy case yet again highlights the need for better and stringent laws for environmental disasters and for industries using hazardous substances. More importantly, it highlights the urgency of drafting the same with the possibility of several nuclear power plants coming up across the country. Even Law Minister Veerappa Moily has said as much. The need for laws dealing with industrial accidents cannot be over emphasised. The legal provisions should be better equipped to handle such cases so that we need not wait for 26 years to get justice. Notwithstanding Moilys criticism of the verdict, we need to shed our subservient attitude towards the US and start behaving as a strong nation. The writer is a Delhi-based freelance columnist.