The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed petitions filed by French writer Dominique Lapierre and publisher Shekhar Malhotra seeking transfer of two cases pending against them in a court in Madhya Pradesh outside the state.
A Bench headed by Justice K G Balakrishnan, however, granted them liberty to seek permanent exemption from personal appearance in the court.
The writer-publisher duo has been dragged to court by the then Superintendent of Police, Bhopal who alleged that their book – ‘It Was Five Past Midnight in Bhopal’ — contained defamatory and derogatory references against the police in handling the situation arising out of the Bhopal gas tragedy on December 3, 1984.
Over 3,000 people had died after a lethal gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory. Home Guards Director General Swaraj Puri, who was posted as SP Bhopal at the time of the tragedy, filed two cases against them - - one criminal and the other civic seeking damages.
According to the book, many lives could have been saved but for the announcement made by Puri asking the people not to panic and believe in such rumours as the situation was under control and there was nothing serious. As a result people did not escape to safer places.
Dominique had sought transfer of cases outside Madhya Pradesh on the ground that Puri, a former DGP of the state police, could influence the course of justice and that he was finding it difficult to come to India for attending the case on every date. It involved lot of expenditure and was also time consuming, he had submitted.