The recent CJM verdict on the Bhopal Case on this seventh of June has disappointed many of us. The conviction of the eight accused along with their immediate bail has been termed as too harsh a verdict. We are seeing a lot of criticisms of the judicial process, the system, the government from all quarters. The media, the organizations working for the victims of that disaster and intellectuals have unanimously cried foul over the decision made by the Hon’ble court. Even more, the common man has taken this an opportunity to point out his old belief that the rich, the mighty can get away from anything stands vindicated. It is really one of those unfortunate cases when the system has failed. I feel that it is not the judicial system that needs to take the flak; it is the investigating agency and the governments from then to today that require a dressing down.
Let’s just go through the major events of this case that highlight the hypocrisy shown by responsible authorities and see that what it is that buried justice.
INVESTIGATOR CLAIMING HE WAS UNDER PRESSURE:
Mr. B.R Lal who was the investigating officer for this case claims that he was under pressure to let the prime accused Warren Anderson go scot free. The author of this blog saw the investigator taking part in a news debate on TIMES NOW the day verdict was out, only to know the next day the investigator has revealed to another news channel that “he was under pressure”! The ‘lucky’ news channel was broadcasting this news as exclusive. Don’t know what happened in those 24 hours that made the investigator who was defending the system the previous day to go back and claim he was under pressure.
More interesting is that Mr. Lal was not even in the CBI in 1984 when the case was handed over to the CBI and charges were framed.
As revealed now that it was a telephone call from a highly influential person to the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Arjun Singh that prompted the state govt. to let go free Warren Anderson, the prime accused in the case. The result of which “accused number one” never ever returned to India to face the charges though he promised to return soon on his bail on 7th December, 1984.
This also raises serious doubts over what exactly we have achieved from the highly warm Indo-Us relations. We can’t get the accused extradited from a country we tout as our well-wisher, very good friend. Indian demand for extradition which was made by the then NDA govt. was rejected by the US govt. stating that it didn’t meet required conditions for extradition! This is what the might of our so-called ‘powerful’ clout in the Washington circles is, that we can’t bring the man responsible for homicide of 25000 people to book while there in US Mr. Obama wants to “kick ass the BP” for spilling oil that has so far only spoiled marine life and caused eco damage?
LETTING UCIL DISAPPEAR AND DILUTION OF CHARGES:
In 1992, in the Washington Post a proclamation for Warren Anderson’s appearance was published as directed by the Indian Court which had declared Warren Anderson (accused number one), UCC( USA) (accused number 10), Union Carbide Eastern (Hongkong) (accused number 11) as absconders for non-appearance in the criminal case against them here in India. The CJM had declared that if the accused didn’t appear their properties were liable to be attached. But, acceding to UCIL’s request, the CJM postponed attachment of UCC’s properties in India. However, CBI and NGOs filed petitions in the same month before CJM for attachment of shares and properties of UCC in India. The CJM thus attached the shares and properties of UCC in India only to be stayed by Madhya Pradesh High Court in response to a revision petition filed by UCIL against the order of CJM, Bhopal. In Feb1994, the Supreme Court of India allowed UCC to sell off its shares in UCIL and finally it disappeared. Furthermore during 1991-1996 the charges against the accused were diluted from criminal to a level of traffic accident which made them only amounting to a conviction of at the most 2 years. It is here where the case was lost.
CBI IN THE DOCK:
The case has shown the CBI wanting in its ability to prosecute the Indian and the foreign accused. The CBI failed to present evidence when it was available. UCC(USA) and Warren Anderson were aware in 1973 that the technology being used in Bhopal was “untested” and sub-standard to the design being used in the company’s plant in West Virginia. There was enough evidence that the design of the Bhopal plant was different and inferior in terms of safety when compared to the plant owned by Union Carbide in Institute, West Virginia, USA and the executives knew about the hazardous design of the plant.
CBI also failed to produce the three absconding foreign accused in court and they couldn’t prevent UCIL from disappearing and never visited the plant in West Virginia to compare the design differences. The sale of shares of UCC(USA) in UCIL in 1994 loosened the grip of Indian Court against the absconders and didn’t appeal against the dilution of charges.
COMPENSATION MONEY BEING NEGOTIATED:
In 1985 the Indian govt. had filed for a compensation of $3.3billion in an American court which transferred all Bhopal litigations to India. Later Union Carbide and the Indian govt. reached an out-of-court settlement with the UCC giving $470million for compensation which then amounted to 75000 for dead and 25000 for injured. So far only part of the compensation has been given out which is 12000 per victim. It is hard to understand why the Indian govt showed the victims number as 1 lakh only to be later acknowledged by the Supreme Court as 5.73lakh.
The way media kept quiet on this issue for over 26 years and now all of a sudden seem to have been so concerned about this seems little too dramatic. The media was watching all the developments on this case, the failure of the CBI, the disappearing of UCIL, terse response of the US over extradition and it could have raised questions about it to the govt. But it didn’t. We have seen the govt. taking prompt action in the Jessica Lal case, BMW hit and run case just because media highlighted the failures during the trial but in this case the media took no interest until the verdict. Seems like media too is hand in glove with the guilty.
I don’t think we should raise questions over the judiciary’s ability. It is rightfully known as the “Last Pillar of Hope for the Common Man”. Though I agree that the speed of judiciary is slow but it works in a fair manner. Now in this case the judiciary decided over the facts that were put in front of it. Remember it doesn’t go out and collects evidences. It is the job of investigating agencies. We know that the design was hazardous it was up to the CBI to go and show proof of that and collect enough legally acceptable points that could have stopped the disappearing of UCIL. It is very clear that there has been interference with the agencies work by the ruling govt and influential people. It is necessary that we allow the investigating agencies to work autonomously, with the govt. aiding it and not checking it; so that the judicial system can work properly and there are no more cases of justice being buried.