The long-delayed verdict in the Bhopal gas tragedy case will have an impact on the pending Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said here on Monday evening.
“There is need to take note of the lessons learnt [from the Bhopal case], while looking at [questions of] investigation, liability, compensation and punishment,” he stressed, responding to a question on whether the government would heed the message of Bhopal while finalising the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill.
Mr. Moily also felt that laws relating to industrial disasters needed to be strengthened: “We could even think of a stand-alone legislation so that this kind of offence won't be committed again,” he said, adding, that the law should be such that it is “not open to interpretation.”
In this connection, he referred to the fact that while the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed the case under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Supreme Court, he said, had “understood it as Section 304 A.” This, he said, had the impact of virtually “extinguishing the criminal charge,” but stressed this was because of the limitations of the current law. He, therefore, said there was need to “revisit the law” on “disasters caused by human error.”
Asked whether the fact that so much foreign capital was coming in for projects in India increased the urgency to strengthen the law, he said, “It is a matter of serious concern.”
While Section 304 deals with “culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” punishment for which can be either life imprisonment or imprisonment extending up to 10 years and fine, under Section 304 A, which deals with “any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide,” the punishment is far less – a prison term “which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
The Minister, however, said he did not know yet whether the CBI would go in appeal against Monday's verdict by a local court in Bhopal, which convicted all eight accused, including 85-year-old former Union Carbide Chairman Keshub Mahindra, 26 years after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. He, however, promised that if an appeal is filed against Monday's verdict (either by the accused or victims), “This case will get the highest priority and be fast tracked. In all such cases, we need to ensure the swift filing of charge sheets and the completion of trials within two years,” Mr. Moily said.
Ever since he took over as Law Minister in 2009, he pointed out, his Ministry had “expedited the case through the law officers, despite the limited mandate and access.” Mr. Moily also stressed the fact that it was the United Progressive Alliance government in its first avatar under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that had played a pro-active role in “expediting” the payment of compensation to the victims of the tragedy.