Mr Justice Ahmadi does the decent thing

Mr Justice Ahmadi, the Supreme Court justice who controversially reduced criminal charges against the Indian accused in the Union Carbide Gas Tragedy trial, has resigned. Cynics may say that in doing so he hopes to escape further scrutiny of his actions in favour of Union Carbide Corporation, at the time an absconder from the same case.

In response to UCC’s failure to appear in the Bhopal court, its assets in India, including its majority shareholding in Union Carbide India Limited, were seized by the court.

But in February 1994 Mr Justice Ahmadi overruled the Bhopal court and permitted UCC’s shares to be sold. The proceeds were to be used to create a super hospital for the gas victims. Upon Ahmadi’s retirement from the Supreme Court, he became Chair of the Trustees of the richly endowed Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, which his own decision had brought into being.

Survivors’ organisations allege that Ahmadi’s action effectively allowed Union Carbide Corporation to escape from India and Indian justice by wiping the Bhopal asset off its books. Meanwhile the lucratively endowed hospital over which Ahmadi subsequently presided was involved in a string of controversies involving the bad treatment of gas victims, who were reportedly referred to by hospital staff as “gassies”. Gas victims were also given substandard medications and turned away in favour of rich paying patients.

People sick from the water contamination were not treated at all, while doctors enjoyed a lavish swimming pool and other luxuries.

Ahmadi resigned as Chair of the BMHRC on June 20, 2010, less than two weeks after the Bhopal verdict and the public anger over the lenient sentencing based on the charges he had reduced to the level of a street traffic accident. No doubt he hoped that this would forestall media scrutiny of his actions in letting Union Carbide off the Bhopal hook.

The Supreme Court has now taken steps wind up the Trust and run the hospital directly. In accepting Ahmadi’s resignation letter, the bench said it appreciated the “good service” rendered by Justice Ahmadi in running the trust for the last 12 years.

Justice Ahmadi was appointed as the chairman of the BMHT on May 15, 1998. Following a Supreme Court order of March 1992, Union Carbide Corporation set up a trust fund in London and endowed it with the princely sum of £1,000. Sir Ian Percival, former attorney general under Margaret Thatcher, was appointed as its sole trustee. All remaining money came from the sale of the UCIL shares and grants of land by the then Madhya Pradesh government. After the death of Percival, the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust was constituted with Ahmadi presiding.

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