Organisations working with the survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal are hopeful of an end to the long drawn out criminal appeal proceedings pending, initiated by Union Carbide India Ltd and seven of its Indian officials, since 2010.
AT a hearing held on March 25 in a criminal appeal filed by Union Carbide India Limited [UCIL] and its officials convicted in the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984 against their order of conviction, the District Judge of Bhopal has granted another date for hearing to Union Carbide and its convicted officials to present their final arguments from April 25-29 from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and has also ordered to list the matter for final judgement on May 24.
No arguments on the merit of the appeal have taken place at the court of District Judge since August 2021 due to the delay tactics employed by UCIL and its convicted employees. The prosecution agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI], in its reply to an application filed on March 25, 2022 has stated that “the instant criminal appeal is pending before this Hon’ble Court since 2010 and accused applicant is playing all tactics to derail the due process of law and causing inordinate delay in the administration of justice by filing such petition.” There is no order of any higher courts which stops this court from hearing this appeal.
“While this criminal appeal has continued for more than 11 years, two convicted officials (K.V. Shetty and Vijay Gokhale) have already died as free men, without paying for their crimes, and the rest of the convicted officials don’t even show up for hearing dates”, said Rachna Dhingra of the NGO Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
In an attempt to delay the criminal appeal proceedings, three convicted officials of UCIL – Kishor Kamdar – Former President, J. Mukund – Works Manager and S.P. Choudhary – sought recusal of the current District Judge as she had served in an administrative role in the Office of the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal Gas Claims and Compensation Tribunal in 1997. The District Judge denied the request for recusal.
The three convicts then approached the Madhya Pradesh High Court. On November 30 last year, the high court found that their case was without any merit, and ordered the District Judge to hear the matter at the earliest.
On January 20, these three convicted officials filed a Special Leave Petition [SLP] at the Supreme Court against the order of the high court. It is their contention that the criminal appeal filed by them at the District and Sessions Court of Bhopal should not be heard until the Supreme Court decides on their SLP regarding the recusal of the District Judge.
On June 7, 2010, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal convicted seven of UCIL’s Indian officials – including Keshub Mahindra, Chairman Emeritus of the multinational conglomerate Mahindra Group and non-executive chairman of UCIL when the gas disaster took place – under Section 304A (causing death by negligence), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code, awarding two years’ imprisonment and a fine of a lakh rupees to each. However, all of them were let off on bail later that day.
The present criminal appeal (365/2010) was soon after filed by UCIL and its convicted officials, and has been pending at the District Court of Bhopal since then. “37 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster, the corporations and individuals responsible for killing more than 25,000 people, [and] injuring more than half a million people of Bhopal have used every delay tactic in the book to delay criminal appeal proceedings. While the convicted officials are yet to pay for their crimes, the survivors of Bhopal disaster have gotten no justice or closure, and they continue to suffer from chronic illnesses and die untimely deaths due to exposure-related ailments. There cannot be a better example of ‘Justice Delayed – Justice Denied’”, said Shezadi Bee of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha.
In the criminal proceedings pending with the Bhopal District Court against the guilty foreign corporations – the U.S.A.-based Union Carbide Corporation and Dow Chemical Company, the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, which has been assisting the CBI and the prosecution, filed an application and provided details of the authorised representative of Dow to whom notice for appearance should be served.
Earlier, six notices have been issued to Dow for appearance in the Bhopal district court.
The prosecution agency, CBI, has been asked to verify details of the authorised representative of Dow, and present its findings at the next hearing to be held on April 25.