Bhopal: SC hearing on harsher charges

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will Wednesday hear petitions of the CBI and the central government for restoration of stringent charges against the then head of Union Carbide India Keshub Mahindra and six others in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy case and enhancemment of compensation for victims.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) moved the apex court for restoration of stringent charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, punishable with a maximum jail term of 10 years, that were diluted by the apex court by its Sep 13, 1996, judgment.

The five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice R.V. Raveendran, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice Aftab Alam will hear the investigating agency`s petition challenging the court`s Sep 13, 1996, verdict. The apex court then had held that there was not sufficient evidence for framing charges against the accused under the stringent provisions.

The CBI moved the petition in the wake of public outcry after Mahindra and six other accused, despite being held guilty, were awarded sentence of two years each by a Bhopal trial court last year.

They were convicted under the less stringent provision of causing death due to negligence, which provides for a maximum punishment of two years` jail.

The convicts included the then Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) chairman Mahindra, the then company MD Vijay Gokhale and the then senior executives Kishore Kamdar, J.N. Mukund, S.P. Chaudhary, K.V. Shetty and S.I. Quereshi.

The hearing will take place daily for three days from Tuesday to Thursday. This was stated in Chief Justice Kapadia`s order passed Feb 28 which fixed April 13 for commencing the final hearing.

The government is seeking enhancement of compensation by Rs.7,844.22 crore on the grounds that the settlement arrived in 1989 was based on the "assumptions of truth unrelated to realities".

The petition said the revised amount sought in 2010 was on account of devaluation of rupee, interest rate, purchasing power parity and the inflation index.

The gas tragedy killed 3,000 people instantly and affected over 15,000 due to a leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from the Union Carbide`s pesticide plant in the heart of Bhopal.