SC refuses to restore stiffer charges for Bhopal disaster accused

But says it does not restrain the sessions court from enhancing the charges against them

 
By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

In a major setback to families of victims who suffered the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Supreme Court, on Wednesday, dismissed the curative petition filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to increase the punishment of the accused.

The curative petition was filed in August last year against an order of the Supreme Court that diluted charges against the accused in 1996. The court said that the CBI approached the court after 14 years and there were no sufficient grounds to invoke the curative jurisdiction.

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Originally the accused were charged of culpable homicide under section 304 II of Indian Penal Code (IPC) (a maximum punishment of ten years). But the Supreme Court in September 1996 reduced the charges to causing death by negligence under the section 304 A of IPC (a maximum punishment of two years). On the basis of these charges, a sessions court in Bhopal announced a two-year punishment to the seven accused in the case including Keshub Mahindra, the then chairman of Union Carbide India Limited.

Upholding its 1996 judgement, the court said that the evidence provided by CBI to the court was insufficient to charge the accused of culpable homicide. However it clarified that the 1996 order did not stop the trial courts from enhancing the charges. The victims had filed applications for enhancement of charges in the chief judicial magistrate’s (CJM) court of Bhopal in April 2010. However the CJM court rejected it on the basis of the Supreme Court’s judgement.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court said that the CJM court had misunderstood the 1996 judgement when it said it could not hear an application against the judgement. If more evidence had emerged at later stages, which were sufficient to charge the accused of culpable homicide, the trial court could always hear the matter. But now the only option available with the government is to pursue its case with the sessions court for enhancement of the punishment. The applications were filed in the sessions court by the Madhya Pradesh government in June and the CBI in July last year.

“It is disappointing that the Supreme Court has upheld the 1996 verdict which did irremediable injustice to the victims. Asking the sessions court for revision of the charges will start a legal battle afresh which may take another 20 years to reach any conclusion,” said N D Jaiprakash of Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, a forum fighting for the victims’ rights. Jaiprakash has demanded for a special court to hear the Bhopal case on a day-to-day basis.

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