SC rejects CBI's retrial plea in Bhopal case

SC rejects CBI's retrial plea in Bhopal case

Rejecting a CBI plea for a retrial of the 1984 Bh­opal gas tragedy case, the Su­preme Court on Wednesday sa­id that a lower court can try seven former Union Carbide officials, who had earlier got aw­ay with lighter punishment, un­­der harsher penal provisions.

The Supreme Court’s order has effectively put paid to the quest for justice for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims. While rejecting the CBI’s petition, the court observed: “No satisfactory explanation has been given by the CBI and Madhya Pradesh government on filing a curative petition after a lapse of 14 years.”

More than 26-years after the country’s worst industrial disaster, the apex court dismissed the CBI’s plea for recalling its 1996 verdict but said that the order did not stop the trial court from framing charges against the accused under the harsher provision, if there was enough material.

The tragedy following the le­ak of methyl isocyanate at Un­ion Carbide India Ltd’s (UCIL) Bhopal plant on the night of December 2, 1984, had officially claimed the lives of 5,295 pe­ople and left over five lakh afflicted with crippling diseases.

The apex court’s order co­mes nearly a year after a trial co­urt in Bhopal awarded (on Ju­ne 7, 2010) two-year jail terms to then chairman of UCIL and six others, triggering countrywide outrage and forcing the investigating agency and others to move the apex court with curative petitions.

A five-judge special Bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said the curative petition was based on “wrong and fallacious” plea, observing at the same time that the CBI had failed to explain satisfactorily why the curative petitions were filed 14 years after the 1996 verdict.

The CBI had filed the curative petition seeking recall of the 1996 verdict directing framing of charges against the accused under the milder provis­ion of “causing death by ne­­gligent act”, entailing a maximum two-year jail term as pu­nishment. One of the accused persons was former UCIL Chairman Keshub Mahindra.

The Bench held out, however, a glimmer of hope to lakhs of victims by observing, “it is wrong to assume that the 1996 judgment is a fetter against the proper exercise of powers by a court of competent jurisdiction under the relevant provisions of the code.”

The revision petitions filed by the CBI and the Madhya Pradesh government seeking enhancement of charges against the accused and still pending before the sessions court in Bhopal can now be decided taking the available evidence into consideration.

“If according to the curative petitioner, the learned magistrate failed to appreciate the correct legal position and misread the decision dated September 13, 1996, as tying his hands from exercising the power under Section 323 or under Section 216 of the IPC, it can certainly be corrected by the appellate/revisional court,” the Bench said.

“No decision by any court, this court not excluded, can be read in a manner as to nullify the express provisions of an Act or the code and the 1996 judgment never intended to do so,” said the five-judge Bench, also comprising justices Altmas Kabir, R V Raveendran, B Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam.

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