Madhya Pradesh not entitled to challenge Bhopal verdict

By Rana Ajit, IANS,

New Delhi : Madhya Pradesh government’s plan to challenge the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict in high court is likely to come a cropper as the Supreme Court has held that a state cannot file an appeal in a case probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

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The CBI was tasked with nvestigating the criminal culpability of various Union Carbide officials into the tragedy, within days of a police complaint being lodged at the city’s Hanuman Ganj police station Dec 3, 1984.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan Wednesday told reporters in Bhopal: “Since the verdict is disappointing, we have decided to file an appeal to get justice for the victims and to get the sentence of the convicts increased.”

He was reacting to the widespread outrage over the trial court awarding two-year jail terms each to seven Union Carbide officials held guilty of criminal negligence in the Carbide pesticide plant, which caused leakage of poisonous gas that killed over 3,500 instantly and thousands later.

“Since people of Bhopal are victims in this case and they are represented by the state government, we have decided to file an appeal to get justice for the victims,” Chouhan said.

He added that his government will constitute a committee to study the legal aspects before going in for an appeal.

However, there seems to be a legal hitch in his plan. A Supreme Court bench headed by former chief justice K.G. Balakrishnan April 1 ruled that a state government was not entitled to go in an appeal against a judgment of a case probed by the CBI.

The bench gave its ruling on a petition of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri against a Patna High Court decision to admit an appeal of the Nitish Kumar-led state government against their acquittal in a corruption case the CBI had probed.

The apex court bench, which also included Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice B.S. Chauhan, ruled that “the appeal by the state government presented before Patna High Court is rejected as not maintainable.”

The apex court held that only the central government was empowered to go in an appeal against a trial court verdict in cases investigated by an agency set up under a central act.

“A case in which the offence has been investigated by the Delhi Special Police Establishment (CBI), or by another agency empowered to make investigation into an offence under any central act, only the central government may direct the public prosecutor to present an appeal to the high court against the sentence on the ground of its inadequacy,” the bench said.

The trial court verdict here Monday came 25 years after the Bhopal Union carbide plant gas leak on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, spelt one of the worst industrial disasters in the world. Besides jail terms, the court slapped a fine of Rs.100,000 on the seven officials, including Keshub Mahindra who then headed the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL).