More than 25 years after a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal spewed a toxic cloud that killed as many as 25,000 people, an Indian court last week finally sentenced seven former executives involved in the disaster. They’ll receive two years in prison (pending appeal) and pay fines equivalent to $2,100—the maximum punishment allowed under current law, but one considered so lenient that many in India are demanding far tougher corporate liability laws.
But what India really needs is an overhaul of its judicial system. The Bhopal case is hardly unique in its length: the country’s trial courts have a backlog of close to 30 million cases, and Delhi alone has more than 600 pending civil cases and 17 criminal ones dating back 20 years or more. The Delhi court’s chief judge estimates that it would take 466 years to work through the backlog. A major reason for the pileup is that there are simply too few people on the bench: India has only 11 judges per million citizens (America has 110 per million). India likes to call itself a nation of laws. But as the Bhopal verdicts prove, having laws is one thing—delivering justice is quite another.