Deleting culpable homicide charge, failure of justice in Bhopal gas leak case: CBI plea
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the former Union Carbide India chairman, Keshub Mahindra, and six others, asking them to show cause why the charge under Section 304 Part II of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) should not be included in the Bhopal gas tragedy case, in which they were sentenced two-year imprisonment by the trail court in June this year.
A Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Altamas Kabir and R.V. Raveendran, at a hearing in its chambers, issued the notice on curative petitions filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation seeking to recall the September 13, 1996 Supreme Court order quashing the charges under Section 304 Part II of the IPC. In a brief order, the Bench said, “Issue notice. These petitions be listed after service [of notice] is completed.”
The other accused to whom the notice was issued are the then UCIL managing director, Vijay Gokhale; the then vice-president, Kishore Kamdar; the then works manager, J.N. Mukund; the then production manager, S.P. Choudhary; the then plant superintendent, K.V. Shetty; and the then production assistant, S.I. Quereshi.
Normally, curative petitions, filed after dismissal of review petitions, are discussed in the chambers by judges among themselves and if there is merit, are listed for regular hearing in the open court.
The CBI contended that failure of justice affected not only the victims but also society and the nation as a whole. It wanted the culpable homicide charges restored against the accused, who were let off by the Bhopal trial court with a minor punishment for an offence under IPC Section 304 A (negligence). The CBI petition is silent on Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide chairman. The December 1984 tragedy claimed thousands of lives and maimed thousands of others.
The agency said the material on record clearly pointed to the respondents/accused having knowledge of the fact that the Bhopal plant was defective. Once this knowledge was attributed to them, the fact that no action was taken to set right and cure the defects would by itself attract the provisions under Section 299 read with 304 Part II of the IPC.
The CBI said the Supreme Court erred in quashing these charges on the threshold against the well-settled law laid down by it that Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code could not be exercised in a situation where the prosecution had prima facie material to show the complicity of the accused in the alleged offences.
Prima facie case
Keeping an inherently hazardous substance like methyl isocyanate in an inherently dangerous manner and mechanism and deliberately not taking the required care for prevention of an accident fulfils all the ingredients of a prima facie case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under Section 304 Part II of the IPC.
“The analysis of the judgment of the trial court and the evidence brought on record in conjunction with the material on record before this court in 1996 shows that there has been a manifest failure of justice in the deletion of charges under Section 304 Part II,” says the petition.