ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Requirements of Justice

Following the July 2010 district court verdict in the Bhopal gas leak case, the Supreme Court decided to re-examine its own 1996 ruling of light punishment to the accused. Should judicial activism stretch to the extent of reopening a 26-year-old case, not with the objective of seeking more compensation but to seek additional criminal punishment for the accused? Should not the activist role of the judiciary be spent on rendering justice to the victims who continue to suffer? What of the interest earned by the government from the undistributed money which was accepted in 1989 as compensation from Union Carbide? Why has the government failed to clean up the contaminated site until now?

In September 1996, a bench of then Chief Justice A M Ahmadi and justice S B Majmudar agreed to dissolve criminal charges against the accused in the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, stating “(We find) that the material pressed in service by the prosecution does not indicate even prima facie that the accused were guilty of an offence of culpable homicide and, therefore, Section 304-II was out of the picture. Section 304-A on this very finding can straightaway get attracted at least p rima facie”. Chief Justice Ahmadi rejected criticism of dilution of charges against U nion Carbide (UC) executives in the B hopal gas tragedy case saying that in criminal law there was no concept of v icarious liability. He also lamented that Indian law was inadequate to deal with disasters like Bhopal and added that a pplicable legislation should be amended to provide for adequate punishment.1

Fourteen years later, in July 2010, a verdict was pronounced wherein seven p ersons were convicted by the Bhopal District Court Chief Judicial Magistrate M ohan P Tiwari. Six officials from the then Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) Chairman Keshub Mahindra, Managing Director Vijay Gokhale, Vice-President Kishore Kamdar, Works Manager J Mukund, Production Manager S P Chaudhury, Plant Superintendent K V Shetty, and Production Assistant S I Qureshi were found guilty.2 Apart from being sentenced to two years imprisonment with a fine of Rs 1 lakh under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), parallel sentences were three months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 250 under Section 336 IPC; six months imprisonment with a fine of Rs 500 under Section 337 IPC; and one year imprisonment with a fine of Rs 1,000 under Section 338 IPC. The eighth convict, UCIL, has been fined Rs 5 lakh under Section 304-A IPC and Rs 250, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 respectively under Sections 336, 337 and 338 IPC. In all, 12 accused persons/companies were charged in the case. Among those against whom the case was filed was Warren Anderson, Chairman of Union Carbide (US) in 1984. The court had already declared him an absconder. 

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