An Executive Verdict through Judiciary: Bhopal Gas Slaughter.

23 years, 19 judges, 178 prosecution & 8 defense witnesses, 8 accused, & 3008 documents later the judgment was delivered and a hue & cry went up about the travesty of justice. Travesty certainly yes, but the seeds of it were sown way back in 1996, it merely fell to CJM Tiwari’s lot to reap the bitter harvest. Accused had gone to apex Court when the then CJM framed charges under IPC section 304(part II) – culpable homicide not amounting to murder, section 326voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means, & other relevant sections. Supreme Court modified the charges on 13th September 1996 to section 304Acausing death by negligence, section 336acts endangering life or personal safety of others, & section 337causing hurt by endangering life or personal safety, among others. CBI neither filed a review petition not assisted when ‘Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan’ filed the same. When CJM Tiwari held all the 7 accused (one had died) guilty as charged, he had no powers to give punishment of more than 2 years, the maximum permissible under Section 304A. (Indian Express has of course erroneously reported, “They were held guilty under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and……… of the Indian Penal Code)”. Therefore, the judgment would surprise only those who were either not acquainted with facts or have short memories.
The Public Liability Insurance Act 1991 was passed by parliament so as to allow immediate payment to victims (miserly sums indeed are specified in the schedule to the act) without proving “any wrongful act, neglect or default……” on part of the accused. According to the part 3(1), the intent of law is : “Where death or injury to any person (other than a workman) or damage to any property has resulted from an accident, the owner shall-be liable to give such relief as is specified in Schedule for such death, injury or damage.” The question that arises is, had University of Delhi who is held guilty of mishandling radio-active hazardous substance, and others responsible for similar accidents, taken out such policy? The compensation under the act is really a mockery (For fatal accidents the relief will be Rs. 25,000 per person in addition to reimbursement of medical expenses if any, incurred on the victim up to a maximum of Rs. 12,500) of life, but even these woefully inadequate legislations are routinely observed in breach. Often, as in other instances, it is not the absence of necessary legislations, but their willful neglect & subversion by successive administrations is responsible for this sordid state of affairs. That is precisely how Warren Anderson, the then CEO – Union Carbide Corporation (parent company of UCIL who owned the Bhopal Plant), was spirited out of the country to safety by venal Indian Political class.

The man who tried to fashion himself as the messiah of the minorities during his stint as the HRD Minister in UPA-I – Arjun Singh – was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh when Anderson was let loose notwithstanding the fact that there was a sizable population of Muslims among the victims. IE reported today, “He (Anderson) was taken aback when we told him that he was under arrest, said Moti Singh who was then Bhopal Collector. He recalled how the Anderson landed at the airport casually with a gas mask in hand”. He further added, “Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Brahma Swaroop called to inform him that a plane was waiting at the airport for Anderson to be taken to Delhi”. In the face of growing criticism, UPA-II has got into the standard operating procedure (SOP) of damage control by appointing Group of Ministers (GOM) to go into a range of issues surrounding the December 1984 incident and its aftermath. The idea is to appear doing something real & extraordinary while hoping for the storm to settle. While Anderson was allowed to flee the country when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM, Ministry of External Affairs has now claimed that “it has time and again sought his extradition – first request made in 2003 to last in September 2008 – but it had been turned down by the US for want of more evidential links”. Now whose duty is it to provide those ‘evidential links’? US administration understands the language of “commerce & money”. Was any attempt made to make it see reason through this route? In the light of ‘sincere attempts made by successive Indian governments including that of BJP’ to extradite Ottavio Quatrocchi, the Italian accused of fronting for Gandhi family for the payoffs received in the Bofor’s Gun deal, it is evident where the efforts of present GOM are headed. While everyone is castigating the “Judicial Verdict”, which is what it is, one should recognize that primarily it is an Executive’s Script.

The Bhopal judgment is ironically in one sense timely.  The UPA-II is eager to complete its unfinished agenda of “Indo US Civil Nuclear Cooperation” that was started by UPA-I. The finishing touch can come only when our laws are made compliant to the US laws, which do not permit US corporations to engage in Nuclear commerce with countries that do not legally cap their liabilities in case of nuclear accidents. The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill is waiting in the wings to turn into an act. Although opposition is making vociferous noises, when it comes to vote, UPA can always count as in the case of budget cut motions sponsored by the opposition on the likes of Mayawati, in return for dropping of corruption cases against her, and amnesic Shibu Soren, god only knows for what consideration, to ensure smooth sail for the bill. Usually buyer dictates the terms especially when there are eager suppliers who are ready to compete fiercely. UPA should have dictated USA to mend their laws when suppliers from other counties are willing to do business under existing legal framework rather than abjectly capitulating before it. May be UPA is playing Mayawati for a consideration by selling off India’s interests. India has much superior and safer options before it than Nuclear Power, whose insurmountable deficiencies have been articulated in the public domain and haven’t been convincingly answered head on. But had UPA got USA to amend its laws one would have at least called it patriotic even if somewhat misguided. If the wrath over Bhopal Judgment brings at least commensurate succor to victims and punishment to guilty, and also translates into aborting the ‘Nuclear Selloff’, then one may still see a silver lining in the dark cloud of too little too late.
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One Response to “An Executive Verdict through Judiciary: Bhopal Gas Slaughter.”

  1. Inakshi Chaterjee Says:

    Crisis manager confirms: Arjun ordered release, at Rajiv behest. Indian Express of 11th June 2010.

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