Bhopal verdict review a judicial compulsion: Apex court told

New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) The Supreme Court was Tuesday told that the Bhopal gas tragedy case fell in the rarest of rare category and the court must remove all obstacles so that the perpetrators of the disaster that left thousands dead and maimed get punishment in tune with their crime.

“To perpetuate errors (in judgment) is no virtue and to correct it is the compulsion of judicial conscience,” Attorney General G. Vahanvati told the apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice R.V. Raveendran, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice Aftab Alam.

When Chief Justice Kapadia asked if the judges had the power to set aside the verdict, Vahanvati said “to the extent obstacles are removed, they are enough for consideration”.

The court query came during the hearing of a curative petition of the central government that sought review of the apex court’s Sep 13, 1996 verdict in the case.

By that verdict, the apex court had quashed the framing of charges against Keshub Mahindra and six other senior officials of Union Carbide India Ltd for committing culpable homicide not amounting to murder which attracted the maximum imprisonment of ten years.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has moved the apex court by way of curative petition seeking enhancement of charges and prosecution of the accused for committing the offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The court is hearing arguments on the maintainability of the curative petition by the investigating agency.

Assailing the 1996 verdict that diluted the charges against Keshub Mahindra and six others, Vahanvati told the court that there was a “disconnect” between one paragraph of that judgment with another.

He said the impugned judgment referred to the charge sheet which noted that the accused knew the “defective functioning of the plant” and had the “knowledge that such running of the plant was likely to cause death”. However, when it came to reasoning that was completely missed out, the attorney general said.

Vahanvati pointed to the “discrepancy in the approach and the patent contradiction” when the impugned judgment came to the conclusion directing the trial of the accused for the offence of causing death due to negligence.

Appearing for Keshub Mahindra, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that the curative petition was not maintainable as in 1996 the apex court had decided the issue on merits and it could not be revisited.

He said that if the court decides to set aside the impugned verdict, then the trial would take place de novo and would be time consuming. Salve would continue with his arguments on Wednesday.

Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tanka, who dealt with the trial court verdict, said if the trial had to be held afresh it should be on day to day basis so that any possibility of delay is removed.

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 about 100,000 people that night and estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer from ill effects of the gas till date.

Source: Mangalorean

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