The verdict of the chief judicial magistrate's court on Union Carbide and its officials over the death of more than 25,000 and toxic exposure to over half a million people in Bhopal has caused more pain to victims of the industrial gas leak of 1984 than the tragedy itself.
While civil society activists are planning to appeal against it in a higher court, the verdict is being blamed on the decision taken by the Supreme Court in 1996 to dilute charges against the accused.
Human rights groups and lawyers are in favour of going directly to the Supreme Court to seek a reversal of its order of 1996, which diluted charges against Union Carbide from culpable homicide to mere rash and negligent act (equivalent to a car accident).
A top lawyer, who did not want to be named, pointed out that there was a precedent of the Supreme Court reversing its own decision and admitting its own mistake in the Carbide case itself. And it can do so once again.
In 1989, the Supreme Court had upheld the settlement between Union Carbide and the government and allowed for a low compensation, quashing all criminal cases against the company. However, the same court in 1991 reversed the order on a review petition and said criminal cases could not be quashed.
Today, the CJM court's verdict derives from the dilution of charges against the company, which was allowed by the Supreme Court in 1996.
Chandra Bhooshan of the Centre for Science and Environment says: "With the kind of dilution of charges by Supreme Court in 1996, there was nothing much that the trial court could have achieved."
He adds, "This kind of approach to human tragedy by
Meanwhile, the victims say the judgment has proved to be worse than the industrial disaster itself.
Hazra Bi, a resident of the JP Nagar area who lived barely 100 feet away from the building that housed the Union Carbide plant which started spewing deadly fumes on the midnight of December 3, 1984, says, "My child and I have been victims, and, when my granddaughter was born disabled, I was shattered. But, the wound that this judgment has caused me is deeper than that. I don't think I can get over this betrayal of faith by our system. The government has shown how little it cares for the people. When a man murders another, he gets a jail term of 20 years. But, eight people have got just two years in jail for causing death to 25,000 people."
More shocking is the fact that they have been let off on a bail of a mere Rs 25,000, says Hazra Bi.
Hazra Bi is part of the International Campaign for justice in Bhopal, which networks with almost all the organisations that are working for the cause of justice to the victims of the industrial disaster in Bhopal.
Nityanand Jayaraman, a spokesman for the campaign, said the movement will challenge the verdict in the high court. A punishment of two years and a fine of Rs 1,50,000 for the culprits was nothing but a joke on the victims, he said. The message to other companies from the court and the government was that they could continue with their investments and not fear consequences of any sort of disaster.
It exposed the kind of governance system we had and how cheaply the CBI treated human life, he added.