SC reserves Bhopal verdict

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on the Bhopal gas tragedy case. A five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia, Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice R V Raveendran, Justice B Sudershan Reddy and Justice Aftab Alam directed all parties to the case to file their written submissions within a week from now.

The CBI had moved the apex court filing a curative petition and sought restoration of the stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, instead of death caused due to negligence, against the accused who were all former officers of the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). Under the harsher penal provision, if charges are proved against the accused, they would be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment.

The accused — the then UCIL Chairman Keshub Mahindra; Managing Director Vijay Gokhale, Vice-President Kishore Kamdar, J N Mukund, S P Choudhary, K V Shetty and S I Quereshi — were convicted and sentenced to two years of jail term by a trial court in Bhopal on June 7 last year. The light natue of the sentence sparked off nationwide protests. Taking note of it, the Union Government decided to move the apex court by way of a curative petition.  Essentially, the CBI was seeking to recall the apex court’s verdict which was delivered 14 years ago.

Till Wednesday, the Bench heard the case on the quantum of punishment. Now onwards, it will hear on the quantum of compensation seeking enhancement of the same from `750 crore to `7,700 crore.  Opposing the CBI’s petition, senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Keshub Mahindra, said the case should be decided on the basis of law and not on facts.  Eminent counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for one of the interested parties, too, opposed the CBI petition for restoration of the harsher charge and said curative petition was not an answer for an error in the judgment.

“If the 1996 judgment is set aside, there has to be a de-novo trial. It would necessitate framing of charges afresh and all witnesses have to be re-examined. And, it might even result in quashing of charges and all accused might go scot-free. Even the two-year sentence that the accused got may be reduced,” he said.  He accused the govt of shedding crocodile tears, as if it were acting to protect the interests of the Bhopal gas victims. But it was at the behest of the govt of the day that the court dropped charges against the accused, the senior counsel  said.

Source: Express News Service

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