The court will decide on a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) plea asking for a retrial and seeking a review of its 1996 judgement that had diluted charges against the accused from culpable homicide not amounting to murder to criminal negligence.
This led to lighter punishment for all the accused. On June 7, 2010, a Bhopal court had sentenced seven former Carbide executives, including former Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) Chairman Keshub Mahindra, to two years in jail. They were granted bail immediately.
In its plea, the CBI has sought restoration of the stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder instead of death caused due to negligence against the accused in world’s worst industrial disaster – close to 15,000 people have died since 1984, when a gas leak at the Carbide plant poisoned the Bhopal air on a December night.
Asking the court to reconsider its ruling, the CBI has said, “The men behind one of the world’s biggest industrial catastrophes should not walk away with a minimal punishment of two years despite ample evidence to show the commission of an offence of homicide.”
A five-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice SH Kapadia will give its verdict on the petition today. The apex court has heard the case on a day-to-day basis.
If the Supreme Court dismisses the CBI plea, then the accused will be let off with only a two-year sentence. If the court allows the CBI plea, then there will be fresh trial and stringent charges can be slapped against the accused.
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 June 7 last year.
The apex court had on August 31 last decided to re-examine its own judgement that led to lighter punishment of two years imprisonment for all the convicts.
The verdict had sparked a nationwide outrage, leading to the government setting up a group of ministers and filing of a curative petition against the lighter punishment for those responsible for the gas tragedy.