With criticism on the Bhopal gas tragedy case mess-up mounting, the blame game between the government and the judge widely perceived as being responsible for having allowed the accused to get away with a light punishment, intensified on Saturday.
Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily held the judiciary responsible for the delay in deciding the case against the accused in the world’s worst industrial disaster and for treating the disaster like a road accident. More than 15,000 people were killed in the tragedy in December 1984.
Moily said the government did its duty with responsibility. “The CBI had filed the charge-sheet against Anderson and all other accused under a section which provided 10 years imprisonment, but the Supreme Court converted it into a lighter section,” he told HT from Bangalore.
“The Chief Justice of India at that time decided to charge the accused under a section meant for car accidents. It is unfortunate since man-made disasters cannot be treated as accidents,” the minister said.
Former Chief Justice of India, A.M. Ahmadi, under fire for having diluted the culpable homicide charge against the accused in 1996 into a lesser offence said he didn’t want to enter into a blame game and that some people were interested in raising a hue and cry over the issue. “I don’t want to enter into a spat with anyone,” he said.
In Kolkata, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India was trying for the extradition of former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson.
Moily said he did not intend to attribute motives against anyone, but the fact remained that the accused virtually escaped without any punishment.
“For an offence of this dimension, I am sorry that the charge was watered down by the top court of the country to try the accused under a section for reduced punishment, meant for a car or truck accident.”
Asked about Moily’s statement that the judiciary was responsible for the delay and diluted charges, Justice Ahmadi replied: “When something of this nature happens to the people, does the government say it has no responsibility? I am unable to understand this.”
Top jurists, however, continued to put pressure on Ahmadi to quit as the chief of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust. Former Supreme Court judge, P.B. Sawant, said he could have avoided the controversy by staying away from the hospital trust after his retirement.
“He should quit since he decided the civil and criminal cases related to Union Carbide Corporation. This issue will have serious repercussions for the image of higher judiciary in the country,” said Justice Sawant.
Former law minister and veteran lawyer Shanti Bhushan said Justice Ahmadi should not have accepted the post in the first place. “It is not a question of conflict of interest, but of propriety and public confidence.”