Supreme Court on Tuesday re-opened the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict, agreeing to re-examine its own judgment that allowed those convicted to walk away with mild sentences.
It has now opened the door for the convicts to be tried under a more stringent law — culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
The court decided to review its 1996 verdict after the CBI filed a curative petition requesting it to restore the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (IPC section 304-Part II) against the seven and make them face trial again.
After the 1996 judgment, the accused faced trial under section 304A (causing death due to negligence). On June 7, they were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment.
The charge under section 304 part-II was diluted to section 304A by an SC bench after the accused challenged the Madhya Pradesh HC judgment charging them with the stringent section.
On Tuesday, a bench comprising SC’s three senior-most judges, Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Altamas Kabir and R.V. Raveendran, issued notice to the seven, including Union Carbide chairman Keshub Mahindra. Chamber proceedings in the case further stated the matter would be heard immediately after the seven are served with the court notice.
It’s very rare for the SC to admit curative petitions — the last resort against an apex court judgment — unless it finds reasonable evidence to show the earlier judgment caused gross miscarriage of justice.
A GoM had recommended filing of a curative petition subsequent to Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati’s advice. The GoM was constituted following a nation-wide uproar against the trial court judgment in the case.
Vahanvati welcomed the SC order and said: “If the charges are framed under 304 part II, ... then perhaps the consequences for Warren Anderson will also be quite serious. First of all, we have to get the curative petition heard.”