A top government panel has proposed raising the minimum jail term from 2 to 5 years for those found guilty of causing mass deaths and destruction through their rash or negligent acts in man-made disasters.
The Law Commission of India, which advises the government on complex legal issues, in its latest consultation paper has asked for enhanced jail term for those found responsible disasters such as the Bhopal gas tragedy and Uphaar Cinema fire.
Former law minister M Veerappa Moily had asked the commission to carry out a study on the current position of laws dealing with man-made disasters and recommend corrective measures.
It has pointed out that the relevant section of the IPC most widely used by law enforcing agencies, mainly the police, for booking those responsible for such disasters should have been amended many years ago."The punishment prescribed by section 304-A for causing death by a rash or negligent act is only two years. Even if such an act is of a magnitude that results in mass deaths the maximum punishment remains the same," the commission stated.
"For instance, recently this section was applied by the sessions judge in convicting the officials of former Union Carbide Corporation for mass fatalities caused by the escape of poisonous gases on the night of 3 December 1984. Same happened in the case of June 1997 Uphaar Cinema case," it stated. It has questioned whether this section should have been applied at all in cases where human lives were lost in large numbers. "To obviate this problem, it is high time that the minimum punishment under this section be enhanced to at least 5 years or more," the panel proposed.
In its 71-page consultation paper, seeking views of the public on the issue, the commission also recalled that in the past it had recommended enhancement of minimum jail term under this section to 10 years.
It has also asked for widening the scope of definition of man-made disasters. "It should be recast so that the government funds could be made available immediately for providing immediate relief to the victims of such disasters," the panel stated.