Hon’ble Accused, Sir!
Posted June 14, 2010on:
It is a legal myth (a lie, in plainer language) that the accused in the Bhopal gas leak disaster case have been sentenced to two year’s imprisonment. They did not get even a day’s sentence. They were not even treated like accused. The senior police officers posted outside the courtroom of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Mohan P.Tiwari received them, on their arrival, courteously, appended ‘Saheb’ or ‘Ji’ to their names and ushered them respectfully to the courtroom.
Inside the courtroom, they were said to have been received as the most honoured guests, not at all like the accused responsible by their actions for the death of thousands of innocent persons and making miserable the lives of lakhs of others. Media persons were strictly forbidden to enter the courtroom, so were the representatives of the survivors’ organisations. Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) convener Abdul Jabbar had been a familiar figure in the courtroom as he had hardly ever missed a single hearing of the case all these years. Not only that, CJM Tiwari had been particularly taking Jabbar’s help in better understanding the complexities of the case. Even Jabbar was not allowed to enter the courtroom.
Raajkumar Keswani is not only a senior journalist but it was he who had moved a petition in the Supreme Court for reviving the criminal case (which was earlier closed down by a Bhopal court) against the officials in charge of Union Carbide’s Bhopal pesticide plant and obtained a directive to the Bhopal court to resume hearings. Besides, Keswani was a key prosecution witness. The police officers told him that even he could not enter the courtroom. Jabbar and Keswani then sent a written request to CJM Tiwari that they would like to meet the CJM for a minute or so. Their request was curtly turned down.
Apparently the CJM did not want the media persons or the representatives of the survivors’ organisations to see how he was treating the accused of the world’s biggest industrial disaster. Even peeping in the courtroom from outside was not tolerable. Those standing in front of the courtroom, media persons and survivors’ representatives, were forcibly pushed back by the police. Those who had a taste of the police highhandedness included N D Jayaprakash of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS), Abdul Jabbar and Raajkumar Keswani.
The titbits later culled up from different sources suggested that the script of the farce was prepared well in advance. The accused did not have to stand at the place marked for the accused but were made to sit comfortably on one side and served cold drinks, while the CJM went through the farce of pronouncing them guilty, hearing the arguments for the quantum of punishment and pronouncing the punishment: two years in jail, the maximum permissible under the IPC section invoked in the case. No sooner the punishment was announced than the accused moved their applications for bail which was promptly granted for a surety of Rs 25,000 each and the accused were honourably and courteously escorted out by the police, with enough time to reach the airport to catch the evening flight. Those who had come from outside had come with the return ticket in their pockets (an important part of the script).
Three prime accused in the case, then chairman of UCC warren Anderson, the UCC and the Union Carbide (Hong Kong) Limited are “absconders”. The Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), its then chairman (now the boss of Mahindra and Mahindra) Keshub Mahindra and six others were “sentenced” (to be immediately let off on bail) on June 7. One of the accused was not present in the courtroom because of ill health; he completed the formalities of the bail on June 8. One accused had died during the procrastinated hearings and his name was struck off the list of the accused.
CJI’s Dirty Role
CJM Mohan P.Tiwari has only given a finishing touch to the process of humiliating the gas victims which was initiated by Chief Justice of India A.M.Ahmadi more than a decade ago. In October 1991, the Supreme Court had directed the Union Carbide to construct a 500-bed hospital equipped with the modern facilities to take care of the Bhopal gas leak survivors. The Union Carbide approached the Bhopal court for releasing the shares of its Indian subsidiary for building the hospital but its application was rejected by the court with the observation that the funds for the construction of the hospital should come from Union Carbide’s own coffers and the shares of the Indian subsidiary would remain attached until the accused appeared in the court. Ignoring objections from the survivor groups, a Supreme Court bench presided over by A.M.Ahmadi overruled the Bhopal court order and allowed Union Carbide to sell its shares to raise the money for the hospital. That was in November 1994.
Nearly two years later Chief Justice A.M.Ahmadi was said to have entered into private negotiations with Union Carbide and diluted the charges against the Indian officials of the company from 304 (Part 2) of IPC which carries a maximum punishment of ten years in imprisonment to Section 304A providing for a maximum punishment of two years. Ahmadi retired in 1997 and succeeded Sir Ian Percival as the chairman of the Union Carbide’s Bhopal Hospital Trust where he has been behaving recklessly: the Hospital under his administration started charging the gas victims for treatment; when the Supreme Court intervened, the money was returned to the victims but the Hospital started discouraging and humiliating the gas victims going there for treatment. Today the Hospital is practically out of the bounds for the gas victims and cares only for those who can pay handsomely. Following complaints from victims’ organisations, the Supreme Court constituted a high level committee to monitor the working in the hospitals catering to the gas-affected people. Ahmadi exerted his influence on the Supreme Court bench to get the Bhopal Hospital excluded from the purview of the monitoring committee so that his arbitrary ways of running the Hospital could not be checked. Ahmadi was accused of having swindled over Rs 100 crore and has not allowed the accounts of the Trust to be made public in spite of repeated requests by the victims’ organisations.