The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to alter its 1996 judgment diluting the charges against the Indian accused in the Bhopal gas leak case. That ruling led to the seven men behind the world’s worst industrial disaster getting off with a two-year jail sentence, handed down to them by a Bhopal chief judicial magistrate in June last year.
Dismissing the CBI’s curative petition against the 1996 verdict, a five-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia, however, opened a window of hope for the victims by saying the mistake of the magistrate could be corrected by a sessions court hearing the CBI and Madhya Pradesh government's revision petitions.
On September 13, 1996, Supreme Court brought down the charge against the accused from culpable homicide not amounting to murder - punishable with a maximum 10 years in jail — to death by negligence.
In its plea, the CBI contended the court committed a serious error by quashing the stringent charge. Due to that judgment, the magistrate did not appreciate the evidence placed by the CBI to show the accused had committed an offence under the stringent charge, it said. The top court lambasted the CBI for basing its petition on this "fallacious plea".
Pointing out that the 1996 verdict was based on material placed before the court by the CBI “till that stage”, the bench said: “No decision by any court can be read in a manner as to nullify the express provisions of an Act or the Code and the 1996 judgment never intended to do so.”