The Judiciary on Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Former CJI defends verdict in Bhopal case

PTI, Jun 8, 2010, 07.23pm IST

NEW DELHI: Former Supreme Court Chief Justice A H Ahmadi on Tuesday rejected criticism of dilution of charges against Union Carbide executives in Bhopal gas tragedy case, saying in criminal law there was no concept of vicarious liability.He also lamented that there was absence of law to deal with disasters of Bhopal kind and said law can be amended to provide for adequate punishment. Justice Ahmadi, who headed the bench in 1996 that converted the CBI charge under the stringent provisions of 304-II that provided for maximum of 10 years imprisonment to Section with two years maximum imprisonment, said it was easy for people to talk and make allegations but judges have to work under the system.

“One has to work within the system, within the framework of law. It is easy to speak today, to swing with the tide,” he said reacting to criticism that the decision given by bench had led to light punishment given by a Bhopal court in the gas case on Monday.

“There is no concept of vicarious liability. If my driver is driving and meets with a fatal accident, I don’t become liable to be prosecuted under 304-II,” he said. Justice Ahmadi said that there was no vicarious liability concept in criminal law except that “if there is an abetment, the abettor may be joined with the principal offender. If there is a common intention situation or conspiracy situation, that is understandable. Otherwise no.”

Bhopal gas case: SC shot down move to slap tough charges

Dhananjay Mahapatra , TNN, Jun 8, 2010, 01.28am IST

NEW DELHI: It will be unkind to blame the trial court for handing out mild punishments to the Bhopal gas leak accused whose collective negligence caused an industrial catastrophe. For, the court’s decision to frame charges against them under Section 304-II of IPC — that attracts a maximum jail term of 10 years — was set aside by the Supreme Court itself on September 13, 1996. Appearing for CBI, then additional solicitor general Altaf Ahmed had argued before the SC that the accused knew about the potential danger of the lethal gas escaping and hence should be tried under the stringent provision.

“There was ample material produced by the prosecution in support of the chargesheet which indicated that all the accused shared common criminal knowledge about potential danger of escape of the lethal gas — MIC — both on account of the defective plant which was operated under their control and supervision at Bhopal and also on account of the operational shortcomings detected by the Varadarajan expert committee,” Ahmed had said in court.

However, a bench comprising then Chief Justice A M Ahmedi and Justice S B Majmudar disagreed. “On our finding that the material pressed in service by the prosecution does not indicate even prima facie that the accused were guilty of an offence of culpable homicide and, therefore, Section 304-II was out of the picture, Section 304-A on this very finding can straightaway get attracted at least prima facie,” the bench said. It then quashed the charge framed against the accused under Section 304-II.  As legal experts decried Monday’s verdict and activists involved in rehabilitation of the victims termed it a mockery of justice, TOI tracked down Altaf Ahmed in Dubai. Ahmed expressed disappointment, not with the trial court verdict but with the SC’s 1996 judgment. “The dilution of the charges against the accused persons in 1996 by the Supreme Court was very sad and in my perception not justified,” he said. And why did he feel so, when the SC had gone through the evidence and CBI’s chargesheet in detail while giving its 40-page judgment? Ahmed felt the apex court had erred by converting the charges from Section 304-II to Section 304A (death caused by a rash and negligent act, under which the BMW hit-and-run accused was tried). “The management of Union Carbide knew that necessary safety measures were not in place and a leak of the kind that resulted in the tragedy was a distinct possibility,” he said.


2 thoughts on “The Judiciary on Bhopal Gas Tragedy

  1. Hi,

    It is common in Supreme court, In the recent i have read an judgement given by Justice P Sathasivam, Who said in the judgement we haven’t entered into legal aspects,legal aspects are open. Supreme court judges are not implementing Criminal justice system. they are only influenced by senior advocates like P chidambaram, and senior bureaucrats.

  2. Dear Sir,
    The Factories Act 1948 has a section on “Provisions relating to Hazardous Processes”.Section 41-A,B,C,D,E,G,H covers issues relevent to UCC factory at Bhopal.It needs to be checked from state government and factory records ,whether they were followed in consultation with Chief inspector of factories at that time.Section 41- C,D,E specifically relates to the power of Central Government to take actions relating to safety and emergency standards for the workers and general public in the vicinity!Section 96- A relates to provision of penalty in contravention of the above issues to the occupiers/owners of the factory to a maximum of 7 years imprisonment and a fine of two lakhs rupees. I am writing this in reply to former CJI’s honourable justice Ahmadi’s stand that at that time law did not exists to tackle a problem of that dimension. I would request your experts to review my humble suggestions whether that could have been dealt even with existing Factory Act laws what i have pointed out , rather than only tuning it as an criminal offence alone!

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