The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved verdict on the CBI's curative petition for enhancement of punishment to the accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case by reviving the charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

A Constitution Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Altamas Kabir, R.V. Raveendran, B. Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam reserved verdict at the conclusion of arguments by Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati for the CBI and senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, Harish Salve and others for the accused and other interested parties.

Mr. Jethmalani, appearing for Professor Upendra Baxi, argued that any move to revive the dropped charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder would ensure that the accused walked away free.

‘It'll be de novo trial'

“Any attempt to frame a new charge will mean a de novo trial, and no part of the earlier evidence can also be used against the accused. Everything and everyone will have to be re-examined.”

Mr. Jethmalani charged the government with shedding crocodile tears and pretending to be doing something to help the gas leak victims.

“What could be more shocking [to] the conscience than allowing the incident to happen? The Central and State governments have the power under the Factories Act to ensure that it doesn't happen, but they failed in their duties.”

He said: “As the statutory trustee, the government has thrown away the people's interests for a paltry sum of $470 million and done away with both civil and criminal liabilities.”

Mr. Jethmalani alleged: “You [the Centre] also settled all criminal cases by the deal. Why was no one's conscience shocked then?” The documents on the negotiations between the government and the company that led to the $470-million settlement disappeared. “Who fashioned the settlement? To whom was the consideration for the settlement given? How was $3.3 billion whittled down to $470 million?” Counsel suggested that “the rest of the amount had changed hands under the table.”

The Union Carbide Company and the government had struck some kind of corrupt deal to reduce the quantum of compensation, he alleged. The government was guilty and should bear the cost of any further compensation required to be given to the victims.

Mr. Jethmalani said that under the Supreme Court Rules, a curative petition could be allowed only on three grounds: “when an order is without jurisdiction; when the party to the case has not been heard or when the court is biased. To admit a curative petition on any extraneous political reason would be against all laws of jurisprudence.”

The 1996 judgment became final when the court dismissed the victims' review, he said. “The court will now resist the temptation to direct the trial court to frame charges afresh.”

The AG, in his reply, said the Supreme Court could entertain a curative petition if there was patent injustice. Its inherent powers “to meet the ends of justice cannot be trammelled by technical considerations.”

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