Coming 26 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, the judgment delivered by a Bhopal court on Monday, sentencing the accused to two years in prison, will be remembered for long for many reasons. One, for the constraints faced by trial courts in deciding the charges on which an accused is to be tried. Two, for the delay in delivering the verdict. Three, when the matter is ‘international,' fewer people bother about the compensation received for deaths and injuries. One hopes industrial safety norms and legal reforms will get more attention from the authorities, at least in the light of such experiences.
The verdict speaks volumes about how successive governments since 1984 have handled the gas disaster case and how India's justice delivery system works. It is certainly a case of justice delayed and denied.
The quantum of punishment given to the seven accused is meagre. That the court did not mention the name of Warren Anderson, the chairman of the U.S.-based Union Carbide Group and an accused in the horrendous industrial disaster, is surprising.
The outrage of the victims and rights activists over the verdict is understandable and genuine. The damage caused to human lives and the environment due to the gas leak was monstrous and continues to have an adverse impact to this day. It should serve as an eye-opener to the UPA government which is in a hurry to see the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill through, with scant regard for the cap on compensation.
V. Priya Kannan,
Twenty six years of wait for a verdict of two years' imprisonment is hardly a punishment for the accused; it is a punishment for the victims. This and the sentence awarded to the former Haryana DGP, S.P.S. Rathore, for molesting a teenager (and driving her to suicide three years later) almost two decades ago make one wonder what ails our criminal justice system.
I am not a bit surprised that the proceedings took this long because the delay and denial of justice have become common. While the government and industry fought over who was accountable for the gas disaster, the victims continued to suffer and their demand for rehabilitation and medical care fell on deaf ears as did the one on review of their problems. Disasters will continue to occur, the nation will mourn, the media will be abuzz with news, an investigation will be ordered, compensations declared (and go undelivered) and the trial will go on forever.
Manu Zafar Abdulla,
The fact that the verdict came 26 years after the disaster is unfortunate. In spite of the inordinate delay, the victims' families and activists continued to fight for justice. They are justifiably disappointed. The judiciary is the last resort of the public. But it has failed the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster.
P.G. Devi Priya,
By blaming the judiciary for the Bhopal verdict while overlooking the inadequate laws to deal with such situations, we are fighting the symptoms, not the cause. Time and again, laws have been found wanting. Judges dispense justice according to the law of the land.
The accused were tried and sentenced under Sections that carry light punishment. There is no point in blaming the court. With the prosecution not conducting the case deftly and the government failing to extradite Anderson, the court was left with no option but to pronounce a two-year imprisonment.
Yes, justice has been denied to the victims of the gas disaster as it has come a bit too late in the day. But the punishment is the maximum possible that can be given for the charges framed. Justice has been denied not in terms of the sentence awarded but in terms of the years taken to pronounce it.
Who is to blame? Certainly not just the courts. The investigating agencies, the lawyers, the higher authorities and successive governments are all responsible for the outcome of the case. Thanks to the procedure, this is not the end of the matter. Our hearts go out to the families which suffered by losing their dear ones in the disaster and went on to suffer for the next 26 years fighting for justice.