Supreme Court reopens Bhopal gas tragedy case

New Delhi: Seven Indians, who were executives of Union Carbide, and were sentenced to two years in jail for their role in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984 could soon be looking at tougher charges. The Supreme Court has re-opened the Bhopal case.

It's part of the government's new campaign to correct the infinite wrongs of the past which collectively led to a shocking verdict earlier this year. 15,000 people have died since 1984, when a gas leak at the Carbide plant poisoned the Bhopal air on a December night. A Bhopal court sentenced seven former Carbide executives, including then chairman Keshub Mahindra, to two years in jail. They were granted bail immediately.

That nano-punishment provoked political criticism and public anger. So the CBI asked the Supreme Court, through a curative petition, to review its own decision. In 1996, the Supreme Court had diluted the charges against the Carbide executives from culpable homicide to criminal negligence. Asking it to reconsider that ruling, the CBI said, "The men behind one of the world's biggest industrial catastrophes should not walk away with a minimal punishment of two years despite ample evidence to show the commission of an offence of homicide."

The former Carbide employees now have to explain why their sentence should not be scaled up  ''Definitely it is the first step and it sends out the right message that no matter how high you are the law is above you," said the CBI's lawyer, Devadatt Kamat.

The government hopes to also hold Dow Chemicals, which bought Carbide in 1999, financially liable for the disaster. So far, Dow has resolutely held that it cannot be linked to the tragedy through its ownership of Carbide. It says that Carbide sold its Indian interests to a company named Eveready.

What the Opposition and several activists also want is a more concerted attempt to have Warren Anderson, who was CEO of Carbide in 1984, extradited to India. Anderson visited Bhopal hours after the gas tragedy but was then allowed to leave the city on the Chief Minister's plane. His government-assisted getaway has become a crucial point of controversy, with the Congress repeatedly insisting that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not sanction - or intervene to arrange - Anderson's exit.

In Parliament earlier this month, Arjun Singh, who was Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 1984, said Anderson had to be removed from Bhopal because there was a very real possibility of him being attacked by angry crowds.
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