New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Union Carbide Corporation, Dow Chemicals and others on a Centre’s plea seeking enhancement of compensation to the victims of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy from Rs 750 crore to Rs 7,700 crore.
The apex court also sought replies of Mcleod Russel India, which holds 50.9% share in UCIL, currently known as Eveready Industries Ltd, on a curative petition filed by the Centre against the 1989 judgement and the 1991 judgement.
A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.H Kapadia also said it will hear on day-to-day basis from 13 April the Centre’s plea for restoration of the stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the accused and enhancement of compensation for the victims.
“We propose to sit on day-to-day basis from April 13 to hear the criminal matter,” the bench, also comprising Justices Altamas Kabir, R.V Raveendran, B Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam, said.
The bench also issued notices to the companies on the Centre’s plea seeking transfer of the writ petition before the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which is hearing the issues relating to the environmental damage caused due to the leakage of the poisonous gas.
On a curative plea by the CBI, the apex court had on 31 August last year decided to re-examine its own September 1996 judgement, which had ruled in favour of the trial of various Bhopal gas leak tragedy accused on charges of causing death due to negligence rather than the harsher penal provision of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The apex court’s 1996 ruling eventually had resulted in a Bhopal trial court imposing a lighter punishment of two years imprisonment on several accused including former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra in May 2010.
After the CBI moved the apex court following the Bhopal trial court ruling, the apex court in August had also sought replies of seven accused on the CBI plea for restoration of the charge of culpable homicide, which attracts a maximum punishment of 10 years’ jail term, against them for the world’s worst industrial disaster that left over 15,000 people dead and thousands maimed.
Besides Mahindra, Vijay Gokhale, the then managing director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, then Vice President, J N Mukund, then Works Manager, S.P Choudhary, then Production Manager, K V Shetty, then Plant Superintendent and S.I Quereshi, then Production Assistant were convicted and sentenced to two years’ jail term by a trial court in Bhopal on 7 June this year.
The curative petition in the criminal case was filed after a nation-wide outrage over the trial court judgement in the 26-year-old case following which the Centre appointed a group of ministers (GoM) to recommend steps including ways to get the punishment enhanced.
The charge under section 304 part-II was diluted to section 304A by a bench comprising the then Chief Justice A M Ahmadi and Justice S B Majmudar on the plea of the accused in the 1984 gas disaster case.
The CBI has sought reconsideration of the September 13, 1996 apex court judgement which had whittled down the charge to ‘causing death due to rash and negligent act´ against Mahindra and six others.
The trial court verdict had sparked an outrage with activists and political parties seeking an appeal against it, maintaining the accused had been tried under a less stringent provision of law.
All the accused were tried as per the 1996 judgement of the apex court under section 304A of Indian Penal Code which attracts a maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment for causing death by a rash and negligent act.
Government had on 3 December, the anniversary of the tragedy, had moved the apex court also seeking enhancement of compensation from Rs 750 crore to Rs 7,700 crore for the victims.
The filing of curative petition on the compensation issue on December 3 had coincided with the 26th anniversary of tragedy in which the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers has sought re-examination of the apex court’s 14 February , 1989 judgement by which the compensation was fixed at $470 million (Rs 750 crore) and subsequent orders of 15 February and 4 May determining the mode of payment and settlement.