Govt’s 14-yr slumber, survivors’ hopes dim

From The Pioneer, at

May 12, 2011   7:59:27 AM

Abraham Thomas | New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the curative petition filed by the Centre in Bhopal gas tragedy seeking enhancement of charge against the accused persons from death caused by negligence (IPC Section 304A) to a much harsher culpable homicide provision (IPC Section 304 Part II), but kept the door open for justice to the victims.

The dismissal of the Curative petition is blow to the CBI and the Centre, but thousands of victims will still have legal recourse to fight for justice against the management of Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India Limited.

Since revision petitions seeking same relief were pending before trial court in Bhopal, the court left a window open by clarifying that its September 13, 1996 decision diluting the charge will not be a “fetter” for the trial court to grant enhancement.

Reacting to the ground assumed in the curative petition that in future the Magistrate will be barred to enhance charge even in the light of additional evidence owing to the 1996 apex court ruling, the court termed this plea as “wrong and fallacious”.

It said, “It is wrong to assume that the 1996 judgment is a fetter against the proper exercise of powers by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Defending the 1996 order, the bench added, “The findings were based on materials gathered in investigation and brought before the Court till that stage….it can certainly be corrected by the appellate or revisional court.”

The anguish of the bench comprising Chief Justice SH Kapadia, Justices Altamas Kabir, RV Raveendran, B Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam was evident from the inaction of the Centre and the investigating agency – Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to pursue the interest of the victims at every stage through the trial.

Questioning the 14-year delay of CBI to move a curative petition, the five-judge constitutional bench of the apex court said, “No satisfactory explanation is given to file such curative petitions after about 14 years. The curative petitions are therefore dismissed.” By this standard, the other curative petition filed by Centre for enhancement of compensation for victims, also looks grim.

In addition, it even mocked at the double standards of the CBI in opposing every past attempt by the victims to enhance charge against accused. During the initial period of the trial, the victims had volunteered to seek enhancement of charge to culpable homicide, but CBI opposed it.

The second opportunity was available when the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal dismissed this application. The CBI again filed no appeal.

Pursuant to the trial court’s two-year sentence awarded to accused including Uranium Corporation of India Limited director Keshub Mahindra on June 7, 2010, a revision petition was lodged by Madhya Pradesh Government the same month.

Following the nationwide outrage over the verdict, the CBI moved in with a revision plea to enhance the charge before the Sessions Court in Bhopal on August 23 last year, much after the curative petition was filed in the apex court.

This mistake on part of the CBI was foremost in the court’s mind to dismiss the curative plea.

It said, “The CBI and State of MP did not question the 1996 judgment or file any review petition under Article 137 of Constitution. Instead, it proceeded for the next 14 years to prosecute the accused under Section 304A, 336, 337, 338 read with Section 35 IPC.”

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