In the early hours of December 3, 1984, around 40 metric tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked into the atmosphere and was carried by the wind to the surrounding slums. The government says around 3,500 died because of the disaster. Activists however calculate that 25,000 people died in the immediate aftermath and the years that followed.
A government law-suit had called for the 7 company executives convicted of negligence to be tried on a more serious charge of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” under Section 304 Part II of the IPC providing for a maximum of ten years imprisonment. The law-suit was filed against the two-judge bench (headed by the then Chief Justice A.H. Ahmadi) judgement that held the accused under Section 304(A) i.e. rash and negligence act with a maximum punishment of two years.
The accused group comprising of Keshub Mahindra (Former Union Carbide India Chairman), Vijay Gokhale (The then Managing Director of UCIL), Kishore Kamdar (The then Vice President), JN Mukund (The then Works Manager), SP Choudhary (The then Production Manager, KV Shetty (The then Plant Superintendent) and SI Quereshi (The then Production Assistant) were awarded a meager 2 years jail term, that sparked-off nationwide outrage.
August 31st last year saw the apex court bench consisting of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices Altamas Kabir & R V Raveendran, reconsidering the charges and diluting them again to “death caused due to negligence” against the accused.
16 years down the line, when the CBI sought a retrial in the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case, the apex court bench diminished the plea on grounds of no satisfactory explanation for seeking a review on May 11th, 2011. The Madhya Pradesh Government as well as the CBI felt that the 1996 apex court judgement diluted charges against the accused from “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” to mere “criminal negligence”. The unanimous order was passed by the bench that included justices Altamas Kabir, R.V. Raveendran, B. Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam.
G E Vahanvati (Attorney General), represennting the CBI was heard quoting that though the petition wasn’t filed by CBI but someone else did file it and it was dismissed.Throwing light on the series of illegal omissions on the part of the accused from 1982 onwards, he further added that there was serious security default besides a default in the design in the plant which led to the disaster.
The court is also hearing a government petition seeking an additional payment of $1.7 billion in compensation for the gas leak victims that would come on top of the $470 million paid by Union Carbide after the tragedy. The verdict, however, sparked a nationwide outrage following which the government set up a group of ministers and filed a curative petition against the lighter punishment for those responsible for the gas tragedy.
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