K V Shetty, superintendent at the Union Carbide Corporation factory in Bhopal on the night of the gas leak in 1984, died last month aged 80. Shetty was one of 8 Indian officials accused of criminal negligence following the disaster, with the case finally coming to court in 2010, more than 25 years later. Shetty and the other officials were found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in prison, making bail the same day.
The legal proceedings prior to Shetty’s conviction were protracted and full of twists and turns. Charges were first officially filed against the 8 Indian factory officials, as well as 4 American UCC officials including Chairman Warren Andersen, for culpable homicide in 1987. Two years later the Indian Government reached a compensation settlement with Union Carbide on behalf of the victims, which included criminal immunity for the accused. Following the filing of petitions by survivor organisations, the Supreme Court revoked the criminal immunity in in 1991, and the criminal cases against all 12 accused were resumed. Legal proceedings began in the courts in 1993, although none of the accused outside India showed up for trial. In 1996, the charges against the 8 Indian officials were downgraded to criminal negligence, and the case was transferred from the Supreme Court to criminal court. It took a further 14 years to reach a verdict, when in 2010 the 8 accused were found guilty and sentenced to 2 years jail time. Following the decision a curative petition was submitted to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision in favour of tougher sentencing, but was dismissed the following year. The curative petition is still pending in the Bhopal district and sessions court, and the legal proceedings continue today, nearly 37 years after the disaster.
Last week Shetty’s legal council, Ajay Gupta, announced in court that Shetty had died on September 6th, 2021. He is the second of the accused in the criminal case to pass away, after factory Assistant Works Manager R B Roychowdhury died in 1998.