New Delhi: In a major setback to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected CBI`s curative petition for prosecuting those accused, who have escaped with lighter punishment of two years jail term, under the stringent penal provision attracting maximum ten years of imprisonment.
The order was passed by the apex court bench comprising justices Altamas Kabir, RV Raveendran, B Sudershan Reddy, Aftab Alam and headed by the Chief Justice SH Kapadia.
The apex court bench observed that there was a lack of satisfactory explanation in the curative petition filed by the CBI.
“No satisfactory explanation was given by the CBI and the Madhya Pradesh government on filing curative petition after lapse of 14 years,” the apex court bench said.
The bench also chided the central investigating agency for filing the curative petition so late in connection with the case.
“September 1996 verdict and order was never a fetter for CBI or the Madhya Pradesh government to seek enhancement of charges," the Supreme Court said.
The apex court had heard the case on a day-to-day basis and would now hear the plea for enhancement of compensation from Rs 750 crore to Rs 7,700 crore for the victims.
The same bench had reserved the order on April 27 on the petition seeking to recall the apex court`s 14-year-old judgement that had diluted the charges against the accused who were prosecuted just for the offence of being negligent.
In its plea, CBI has sought restoration of stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder instead of death caused due to negligence against the accused in the world`s worst industrial disaster that left over 15,000 people dead and thousands maimed.
In this matter, Madhya Pradesh government has also moved the apex court seeking its permission to intervene in the petition filed by CBI to re-examine September 1996 judgement by which the accused persons were tried for the offence of criminal negligence which resulted in a lighter punishment of two years` jail term of several accused, including former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra, on June 7, 2010.
Keshub Mahindra has opposed CBI`s plea arguing that the case should be decided on the basis of law and not on the basis of facts.
The apex court had on August 31 last year decided to re-examine its own judgement that led to lighter punishment of two years imprisonment for all the seven convicts.
Besides Mahindra, Vijay Gokhale, the then Managing Director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, then Vice President, JN Mukund, then Works Manager, S P Choudhary, then Production Manager, K V 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 verdict had sparked a nationwide outrage, leading to the government setting up a Group of Ministers and filing of a curative petition against the lighter punishment for those responsible for the gas tragedy.
Appearing for CBI, Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati had said the investigating agency`s decision to seek a review was taken on the facts "which shook our conscience".
With Agency Inputs