Another black day in the history of the Bhopal gas disaster

NEW DELHI/BHOPAL: The judiciary has heaped more injustice on victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, activists said Wednesday after the apex court’s decision to reject the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) plea for more stringent punishment to the seven accused.

Some said it was a “black day” and squarely blamed the CBI for failing to defend the victims. The apex court Wednesday dismissed the CBI’s petition challenging its 1996 verdict that had diluted charges against the accused, then United Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) chairman Keshub Mahindra , and six others for causing death due to negligence.

At least 3,000 had died on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, at the United Carbide factory in Bhopal in what is known as the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action told IANS: “The CBI was never interested to fight for the gas victims and did not take matter from us which had enough evidence to run the case under (Indian Penal Code’s) 304/2.

“It is we who have been fighting against the 1996 Supreme Court verdict and the CBI only woke up after pressure from the group of ministers (GoM) and put a curative petition after 14 years.”

“The order shows that even the judiciary is not with the victims and they are made to suffer for a fault of the CBI,” she said.

The charges against the accused were diluted by the apex court by its Sep 13, 1996 judgment. They were convicted by a Bhopal court last year under the less stringent provision of causing death due to negligence, carrying a maximum punishment of two years’ jail.

The CBI had moved the apex court, seeking direction of the framing of charges against Mahindra and others for culpable ho MIC )ide not amounting to murder that attracts the maximum imprisonment of 10 years.

But the apex court rejected the plea. The apex court also said the 1996 judgment in no way shackled the trial court in Madhya Pradesh from framing charges under the stringent provisions of the criminal procedure court.

“The Supreme Court decision says the lower court can take cognizance of its own but if trial takes place like earlier, it will take 15 more years to come to a conclusion. The Bhopal gas case should be treated like 26/11 Mumbai terror strike case and day to day hearings should take place,” Dhingra said.

Satinath Sarangi, who has been fighting for the Bhopal gas victims, said: “The Supreme Court today has heaped yet more injustice on the victims who are already suffering because of the 1989 order of settlement, 1996 order of dilution of charges and May 11 is another black day in the history of Bhopal gas disaster.”

N.D. Jayaprakash, co-convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, said: “We want the Madhya Pradesh government to set up a special court and pursue the case on a priority basis, possibly within the next six months entire retrial must end.”

The Union Carbide disaster, in which poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the plant on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, killed 3,000 people instantly and 25,000 over the years. It also affected 100,000 people and estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer from ill effects of the gas till date.

Image: Raghu Rai

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.