Bhopal gas tragedy: SC slams CBI for delay

CBI on Wednesday admitted in the Supreme Court that it made a "mistake" in approaching it late for restoring stringent charges in Bhopal gas tragedy case against the accused who escaped with lighter punishment for negligence that led to the world`s worst industrial disaster killing more than 15,000 people.

Last Updated: Apr 13, 2011, 23:54 PM IST

New Delhi: CBI on Wednesday admitted in the Supreme
Court that it made a "mistake" in approaching it late for
restoring stringent charges in Bhopal gas tragedy case against
the accused who escaped with lighter punishment for negligence
that led to the world`s worst industrial disaster killing more
than 15,000 people.

The agency, which has sought restoration of charges of
culpable homicide not amounting to murder which attracts
maximum 10 years jail term, said it was not an "ordinary case"
in which delay in filing the curative petition will come in
the way of providing justice to the victims of the disaster.

"This is not an ordinary case as so many people lost
their lives. Justice cannot be denied just on the ground of
delay. We made a mistake," Attorney General GE Vahanwati told
a five-judge special bench headed by Chief Justice SH
Kapadia.

"I don`t know why it was not filed by CBI but a review
petition was filed in the case by someone else and it was
dismissed," he said as the bench questioned CBI for delay in
approaching it after 15-16 years.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by CBI seeking to
recall the apex court`s 1996 judgement that had diluted the
charges against the accused who were prosecuted just for the
offence of being negligent.

The Attorney General was also asked "why CBI had not
filed the review petition".

He said the review petition filed by an NGO was dismissed
and it was also a "mistake" that CBI also did not opt for it.

He said the delay in the filing of the curative petition
was because the trial was on in the case and the concept of
curative petition evolved only in 2002.

CBI`s curative petition faced opposition from the accused
persons who questioned its maintainability when the agency
itself has moved the Sessions Court against the verdict of the
trial court and even the appeals filed by the convicts are
pending.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the then
Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra, who has been
sentenced to two years jail term, said he will not argue on
maintainability of the petition if the apex court gives a
clarification that the sessions court in Bhopal will deal with
the issue, vis-a-vis the charges which have to be applied on
the accused.

He said the apex court can clarify that without being
influenced by the merits of its 1996 judgement, the Sessions
Court could address whether Section 304 A (negligence) or 304
(II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) will be
applicable.

Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, appearing for 81-year
professor Ramaswamy R Iyer, said it was a delaying tactic on
the part of CBI which had opposed in 2008 when a similar
application was filed before a magistrate`s court for holding
trial under stringent charges when new facts had emerged.

He said even if the apex court restores stringent
charges, the re-trial will take again a number of years and
many of the accused who are old will die.

"It is impossible to reframe charges and send the matter
back for trial which will take another 20 years and by that
time all the accused would be dead," he said.

However, the Attorney General went ahead with the
arguments to justify the need for filing curative petition and
said there were a series of illegal ommissions and commissions
on the part of the accused from 1982 onward which led to that
disaster and many new "incriminating" facts came to light
after the incident.

But the apex court 1996 verdict did not allow framing the
stringent charges for the offence of culpabale homicide not
amounting to murder which attracts maximum punishment of ten
years of jail term.

"I can show series of illegal omissions and commissions
from 1982 onwards that give an impression that the disaster
was bound to happen," he said.

He said there was a serious security fault besides a
fault in the design in the plant which led to the disaster.

"The court misunderstood the incident. It also
misunderstood what was the case," he said, adding it was a
rarest of rare case in which a large number of people suffered
due to the incident.

"It is a crime," he said about the tragedy which could
have been avoided had the management of the Union Carbide
acted with caution.

The petition filed by CBI sought restoration of the
stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to
murder instead of death caused due to negligence against the
accused.

The apex court had on August 31 last decided to
re-examine its own judgement that led to lighter punishment of
two years imprisonment for all the seven accused. The court
had issued notices to all of them on CBI`s plea for
restoration of the stringent charge of culpable homicide.

Besides Mahindra, Vijay Gokhale, the then Managing
Director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, then Vice President, JN
Mukund, then Works Manager, SP Choudhary, then Production
Manager, KV Shetty, then Plant Superintendent and SI
Quereshi, then production assistant were convicted and
sentenced to two years` jail term by a trial court in Bhopal
on June 7 last year.

The curative petition in the criminal case was filed
after the trial court judgement in the 26-year-old case had
triggered a national outrage, following which the Centre
appointed a group of ministers (GoM) to recommend steps
including ways to get the punishment enhanced.

PTI