Result of apathy

The rejection by the supreme court of the CBI’s curative petition against the court’s 1996 ruling which had diluted the charges against the accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case is a setback for the cause of justice for the gas leak victims.

The dilution of charges from Section 304 (II) of the IPC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder to Section 304 (A) for criminal negligence had led to a light punishment of two years’ imprisonment for the seven accused Union Carbide officials, including the company’s chairman, Keshub Chandra Mahindra, last year. The punishment had no relation to the gravity of the world’s worst industrial disaster in which over 5,000 people died and lakhs of people suffered lasting damage to their health. It was the national outrage created by the judgment that forced the government and the CBI to file a curative petition which has now been dismissed.

It is the Madhya Pradesh government and the CBI which should be faulted for the rejection of the petition because they could not explain the delay of 14 years in filing it. The court felt that the curative petition was based on a wrong and fallacious plea and no material was produced before the court to support it. The delay had no rational or legal explanation  and reflected only the apathy and callousness the gas leak victims were used to ever since the tragedy occurred in December 1984. They have not received justice from the courts or the authorities all these years.

Though the curative petition has been dismissed the supreme court has left a window of justice open by stating that there is no bar on the trial court framing charges under more stringent provisions of the IPC. The CBI can seek enhancement of the charges in the appellate court which can take stock of the evidence afresh and decide whether Section 304 (II) can be invoked against the accused.

With the supreme court clearing the legal position there is some hope that justice may yet be done. But the quantum of punishment for the accused is not the only issue of justice. A Group of Ministers formed last year had decided to take steps to make the then Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and the successor company Dow Chemicals liable for the damage. No progress has been made on this, nor on the promise of higher compensation for the victims.

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