The ghost of the Bhopal gas tragedy has come back to haunt the judge whose ruling is being seen as having helped the accused get away with a lightweight two-year sentence.
Criticised for diluting the charges against the accused Union Carbide officials so that they could be tried on a lesser charge of causing death due to negligence, former Chief Justice of India A.M. Ahmadi had said on Tuesday — a day after the verdict — that those unhappy with his 1996 decision could have got it reviewed.
HT has learnt a review petition was filed, which Ahmadi himself dismissed on March 10, 1997, a fortnight before he retired.
When this was pointed out to him, he retorted: “One person says he filed a review; thousands of such petitions come before the court. How do you expect me to remember a particular petition?”
Ahmadi is also the lifetime head of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, built from money provided by Union Carbide on the Supreme Court’s orders.
Asked about the conflict of interest allegations against him on this count, Ahmadi said he was ready to quit.
“The responsibility was given to me by the Supreme Court. Thrice in the past, I have told the CJIs to relieve me… But what is the conflict of interest, please explain?”
The accused had moved Supreme Court in 1996, 12 years after the industrial disaster, against a CBI chargesheet in a Bhopal court to try them under Section 304-II of the Indian Penal Code — culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which comes with a 10-year jail term.
On September 13 that year, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Ahmadi and S.B. Majumdar ruled that evidence provided by the CBI against the accused was sufficient only to try them under Section 304-A (death due to negligence).
The review petition was filed by an NGO, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti.
“On November 29, 1996, we filed the review, placing on record more evidence to prove the culpability of Carbide officials, and requested the court to recall its earlier order,” said N.D. Jayaprakash, co-convenor of the organisation.
“To refresh the memory of Justice Ahmadi, let me tell him that on March 10, 1997, he dismissed the petition in a minute in a single-line order,” he added.