Ten years, zero convictions

The criminal case that is Bhopal’s second, seemingly eternal disaster

SOMEBODY was criminally responsible for the Bhopal gas leak of December 1984, somebody should have been punished. Nothing of the sort happened. Instead the case lies trapped in the labyrinth called the Indian legal system.

The CBI filed the chargesheet before the chief judicial magistrate (CJM), Bhopal, on December 1, 1987. From the very beginning Union Carbide Corp (UCC) chief Warren Anderson was absent from the court. So notices were issued.

After three such notices failed to elicit any response, on November 15, 1988, the CJM issued a bailable warrant of arrest against Anderson.

Meanwhile, the criminal charges were quashed abruptly as a result of the settlement brought about between the government of India and UCC by the Supreme Court on February 14-15, 1989. But passing the order on review petitions, the Supreme Court, on October 3, 1991, revoked the quashing of criminal cases.

This effectively revived the cases against all accused in the Bhopal District Court.

The process of framing of charges against the accused — including Keshub Mahindra, Vijay Gokhale and J Mukund, respectively chairman, managing director and works manager (Bhopal) of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in December 1984 — proceeded before the Sessions Court in Bhopal from July 17, 1992.

On April 8, 1993, the court framed charges against the nine accused based in India, under Section 304, part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). Under this provision, the maximum punishment was 10 years in prison.

On September 13, 1996, the Supreme Court partly upheld an appeal by the accused and ordered they be tried for lesser offences, under Sections 304-A of the IPC (rash and negligent act). The maximum punishment under this provision was only two years imprisonment.

With regard to Anderson, the CBI, under directions from the Ministry of External Affairs, moved an application before the CJM, Bhopal, on May 24, 2002. The application sought reduction of charges against Anderson from Section 304, part II, to Section 304-A of the IPC. On August 28, 2002, the CJM turned down the request.

On July 16, 2003, the CBI finally informed the CJM, Bhopal, that the government of India had forwarded the necessary request to the US administration to extradite Warren Anderson to India. That request was made on May 5, 2003. A year later, in June 2004, the US Department of Justice got back. Extradition was ruled out.

So as things stand, Anderson is still at his plush home in Long Island, New York. The mess is still in Bhopal. Justice is still in another universe.

A man with friends in the highest places…
A few of Warren Bhai’s victims
Abu Salem, soon to be in Indian custody

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