|The disaster occurred when a Union Carbide plant leaked toxic gases that were carried over the slums of Bhopal [AFP]
India's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal for stronger charges against seven people convicted of negligence in connection with the Bhopal toxic gas leak that killed thousands of people in 1984.
The employees of US chemical firm Union Carbide, whose plant leaked toxic gases, killing at least 15,000 people, were initially charged with culpable homicide, but a 1996 supreme court ruling reduced the charges.
The seven, who are all Indian nationals and most of whom are in their 70s, were then sentenced to two years in jail by a lower court in June 2010.
That decision sparked outrage, with survivors saying their plight has been ignored and justice had not been served, and led officials to appeal against the decision.
In rejecting the prosecution's case on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the government never gave a sufficient explanation for why it had waited 14 years to try to reinstate the stronger charges to gain longer sentences.
Activists said they were disappointed with the ruling.
"It has only modified the 1996 order to that extent that there was no impediment on the CJM (Chief Judicial Magistrate) to give the highest sentence based on the evidence before the court," Jayprakash of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, a voluntary group working with the victims, told the AP news agency.
"What is the message the supreme court is sending? The message is that you [companies] can come, you can maim, you can kill and you can get away with two years," Satinath Sarangi, another activist, told CNN-IBN television.
Those convicted of negligence include Keshub Mahindra, the current chairman of India's top utility vehicle and tractor maker Mahindra & Mahindra, and the chairman of Union Carbide India in 1984.
The disaster occurred on December 3, 1984, when about 40 metric tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate gas leaked into the atmosphere and was carried by the wind to the surrounding slums of Bhopal in central India.
Activists say 25,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in ensuing years, and about 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer today from ailments that range from cancer, blindness to birth defects.
Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government by paying $470m for the victims.
It sold off its Indian operations to a local firm, before itself being bought by Dow Chemicals.
The government is trying to see if Dow can be held liable and be forced to pay more compensation, but the company denies any responsibility.