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Bhopal verdict: Worst legal disaster of recent history
By Raajkumar Keswani

The seed of the verdict was sown in 1996. September 13, to be specific. A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice AM Ahmedi and Justice SB Majumdar watered down the charges against all the accused in the Carbide criminal case.

Don’t listen to anyone else on Bhopal gas verdict but Law Minister of India M.Veerappa Moily. “JUSTICE BURIED’ he says.

Indeed, first were buried the victims and than was the justice. The graves of those who fell victims to the criminal methyl isocyanate gas leak in Bhopal on December 2/3, 1984 would always bear the witness to this worst legal disaster of the recent history. The sham of justice pronounced in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P.Tiwari on June 7, 2010, at Bhopal brings the game of punishment to the farcical levels. A simple calculation will tell you that the two years imprisonment to seven persons for the death of 25,000 human beings virtually comes to just 35 minutes jail for each death. And the CJM still claims, “Surely justice has been done.”

I am sitting here at my desktop after a hectic day at the Bhopal district court on Monday and a sleepless night at home. Have been trying since morning to bring back my sanity to reach at a conclusion, as to what actually has happened.

All that, though, is past, but has not lapsed so far into time. I have lived all these 25 years with souring memories of the unspent past and its extension to the present. Each dark frame of the fateful night rolls down my eyes. The gas leaking out in the midnight of that chilling month of December. People moving on the dark streets coughing and gasping for breath. Some collapsing mid way some still moving. No helping hand around to guide. What to do under these circumstances? It was a situation of total chaos.

Twentyfive years and six months since that night, survivors of the killer gas, wake up in the morning with a hope that the new day could be a better day for them. But hopes would always be hopes. Most of these are born only to get dashed off against some hopeless situation. And this Monday morning too proved no exception to this rule.

In fact, the seed of the verdict was sown in 1996. September 13, to be specific. A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice AM Ahmedi and Justice SB Majumdar watered down the charges against all the accused in the Carbide criminal case. “On our finding 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 prima facie,” the bench said. It then quashed the charge framed against the accused under Section 304-II”

It’s an irony that Justice Ahmedi, on retirement got appointed as lifetime chairman by the Supreme Court for the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, which runs a hospital in Bhopal created by the funding of Union Carbide. An eminent Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaisingh opposed his appointment on the grounds that Ahmedi provided relief to Carbide officials accused in the Bhopal criminal case.

Earlier, incidentally, another Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice R.S.Pathak, too got the posting as a judge in the International Court of Justice, Hague, in April 1989. This was just three months after Justice Pathak facilitated the infamous out-of-court settlement between the Union Carbide and the Government of India, which had assumed the role of the ‘parent of nation’ (Parens patriae) by taking away the rights of Bhopal gas victims to contest their compensation cases.

In this dirty deal by the then Rajiv Gandhi government, Justice Pathak also quashed the criminal proceedings against Carbide in lieu of the payment of settlement money of $470 million. The case could be revived only after victims challenged the decision in the SC.

It was this revived case in the Bhopal court which was decided on Monday to utter disillusionment of the survivors and to a great delight of the accused, since none of them had to go to jail even for a minute. They were granted bails then and there by the CJM against a surety of Rs.25, 000 each.

In Bhopal case all the accused barring the absconder Warren Anderson have been at least declared guilty. This leaves open the option for another round of battle in the courtroom for a more stringent punishment.

In the past 25 years some of lawyers involved in the case have died. Some of the judges are gone too. More than 10 to 12,000 victims too have passed away . Some more will die till the justice is achieved. Those who die in the intervening period may include some of the accused, who are already ‘old and full of years’.




Former CJI defends judgment

New Delhi, June 8
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice AH Ahmadi today rejected criticism of dilution of charge against Union Carbide executives in Bhopal gas tragedy case, saying in criminal law there was no concept of vicarious liability.

He also lamented that there was absence of law to deal with disasters of Bhopal kind and said law could be amended to provide for adequate punishment.

Justice Ahmadi, who headed the Bench in 1996 that converted the CBI charge under the stringent provisions of Section 304-II that provided for maximum of 10-year imprisonment to Section with two-year maximum imprisonment, said it was easy for people to talk and make allegations but judges had to work under the system.

“One has to work within the system, within the framework of law. It is easy to speak today, to swing with the tide,” he said reacting to criticism that the decision given by bench had led to light punishment given by a Bhopal court in the gas case yesterday.

“There is no concept of vicarious liability. If my driver is driving and meets with a fatal accident, I don't become liable to be prosecuted under Section 304-II,” he said. — PTI





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