Bhopal gas case: Dilution of charges under SC scanner

New Delhi: Fourteen years after it had diluted charges in the Bhopal gas leak case, the Supreme Court today decided to re-examine its own judgement that led to lighter punishment of two years imprisonment for the accused including former Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra, reports PTI.

The court sought response from the seven accused on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) plea seeking restoration of the stringent 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.

In chamber proceedings, a bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and justices Altamas Kabir and R V Raveendran, issued notices on the curative petition filed by CBI seeking recall of the apex court's 1996 judgement that had diluted the offence.

The curative petition was filed after a nationwide 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.

Today's decision of the court was communicated to the Attorney General G E Vahanvati and the matter will be heard after the completion of process of service of the notice.

The CBI has sought reconsideration of the 13 September, 1996 apex court judgement which had whittled down the charge to 'causing death due to rash and negligent act' against Mr Mahindra and six others.

Besides Mr Mahindra, Vijay Gokhale, the then managing director of Union Carbide India Ltd (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 7th June this year.

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.

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