New Delhi: The quest for justice for Bhopal gas tragedy victims has hit yet another dead end. Delivering a setback to the CBI and Madhya Pradesh government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the charges against seven people accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case.
The apex court has rejected the CBI's curative petition seeking a stay on its 1996 judgment in the case and restoration of stringent charges against the accused.
In its plea, CBI has sought restoration of stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder instead of death caused due to negligence against the accused in the world's worst industrial disaster that left over 15,000 people dead and thousands maimed.
The Apex court said it was not satisfied with the CBI and Madhya Pradesh government's reasons for filing the curative petition after a lapse of 14 years
"No satisfactory explanation given by CBI and MP government on filing curative petition after lapse of 14 years," observed the Supreme Court.
The bench headed by the Chief Justice SH Kapadia had reserved the order on April 27 on the petition seeking to recall the apex court's 14-year-old judgement that had diluted the charges against the accused who were prosecuted just for the offence of being negligent.
The bench also comprised justices Altamas Kabir, RV Raveendran, B Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam.
The five-judge constitutional bench however, left a window of opportunity open saying the pending proceedings before the Sessions court against the Chief Judicial Magistrate's judgement awarding two years sentence to the accused, including Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra will not be influenced by any order passed by it.
The apex court has heard the case on a day-to-day basis and it would now hear the plea for enhancement of compensation from Rs 750 crore to Rs 7,700 crore for the victims.
In this matter, Madhya Pradesh government has also moved the apex court seeking its permission to intervene in the petition filed by CBI to re-examine September 1996 judgement by which the accused persons were tried for the offence of criminal negligence which resulted in a lighter punishment of two years' jail term of several accused, including former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra, on June 7, 2010.
Keshub Mahindra has opposed CBI's plea arguing that the case should be decided on the basis of law and not on the basis of facts.
The apex court had on August 31, 2010, decided to re-examine its own judgement that led to lighter punishment of two years imprisonment for all the seven convicts.
Besides Mahindra, Vijay Gokhale, the then Managing Director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, then Vice President, JN Mukund, then Works Manager, SP Choudhary, then Production Manager, KV Shetty, then Plant Superintendent and SI Quereshi, then Production Assistant were convicted and sentenced to two years' jail term by a trial court in Bhopal on June 7, 2010.
But Wednesday's judgement left victims disappointed in the apex court. The verdict had sparked a nationwide outrage, leading to the government setting up a group of ministers and filing of a curative petition against the lighter punishment for those responsible for the gas tragedy.
Appearing for CBI, Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati had said the investigating agency's decision to seek a review was taken on the facts "which shook our conscience".
However, all is not over for the victims. The Supreme Court has clarified that if the sessions court is convinced that stringent charges are made out against the accused, the court can proceed against them or the 1996 judgment will not stand in the way.
(With additional information from PTI)