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23-year-old trial to come to an end on June 7

Source: PTI
May 13, 2010 18:19 IST
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Twenty-six years after one of the worst industrial disasters, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, which claimed thousands of lives occurred, a local court trying the case would pronounce its verdict on June 7.

The Chief Justice Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari said on Thursday that he would pronounce the judgment on June 7 on the toxic leak from the Bhopal factory of Union Carbide India Limited (now defunct), after the arguments of prosecution -- the Central Bureau of Investigation -- and defence of eight accused drew to a close in the 23-year-old trial.

During the trial, 178 prosecution witnesses were examined and 3008 documents were exhibited.

CBI counsel C Sahay has argued that the tragedy occurred due to defective design of the UCIL's factory and poor maintenance.

Sahay told the court that the Union Carbide Corporation, USA, surveyed the UCIL's Bhopal factory in 1982 and found serious safety and maintenance lapses on nearly ten counts.

He contended that even after UCC experts' team visit adequate safety measures and maintenance work did not take place in the UCIL.

The prosecution argued that even the experts' team of the central government which visited the UCIL plant, after the toxic leak from it in 1984, found that safety norms and maintenance work had not been properly carried out in the factory.

Sahay has contended that the expert team has found the design of the plant defective which too led to the tragedy.

On the other hand, the defence counsels D Prasad and Amit Desai maintained that maintenance and safety norms were properly adhered to in the UCIL's Bhopal factory.

Refuting the CBI charge that lack of maintenance and safety measures led to the world's worst industrial disaster – the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the defence counsels has argued that all steps were adhered to keep the factory in a proper shape.

They said experts from Union Carbide Corporation, USA, who had visited the Union Carbide of India Limited Bhopal's plant, did not find any fault in the unit following the death of a worker in 1982 -- two years before the tragedy.

The defence contended that the UCIL was so much concerned on safety front that after the death of one Mohammed Ashraf Khan, it reported the matter to the UCC, US, which had carried out a safety audit.

After the UCC team's visit, its recommendations to further improve safety measures were taken care of in the stipulated time. The defence counsels have also refuted the charge that UCIL Bhopal was running into losses and as a result of it, this unit was not in a proper shape.

Defence counsel Prasad told the court that the UCIL had 17 factories across the country and except Bhopal unit -- all other units were earning profit.

The UCIL as a whole was running in profit and its Bhopal unit staffers salary had been hiked before the Gas tragedy took place.

He said there was no retrenchment in the UCIL's Bhopal unit and it had adequate work force.

The defence refuted the prosecution charge that the UCIL had decided to dismantle and shift its Bhopal plant to foreign country -- Brazil or Indonesia -- following financial losses and therefore the factory was not in a good shape.

The defence said the prosecution's theory that the factory was being shifted was based on a written communication between two officers -- one of UCIL and another of Union Carbide Eastern, Hong Kong, defence said.

The communication was just related to preliminary study to look into feasibility of dismantling and shifting the unit, the defence has argued.

Such a big decision cannot be taken by two officers, rather must be taken by the board of directors, they added.

The defence counsels contended that their clients were not in any way responsible for the tragedy and also put forth the accounts of the witnesses and documents.

The accused in the case include Keshub Mahendra, the then chairman of UCIL, Vijay Gokhle, then managing director of UCIL, Kishore Kamdar, then former vice president of UCIL-Mumbai, J Mukund, then former works manager of UCIL-Mumbai, S P Chouhary, then production manager of UCIL-Mumbai, K V Shetty, then plant superintendent of UCIL-Mumbai, SI Qureshi, the then production assistants of UCIL-Mumbai.

The accused have been tried under IPC sections including section 304 (A) (causing death by negligence, 336 (acts endangering life or personal safety of others) amd 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code.

Warren Anderson, former chairman, Union Carbide Corporation, USA is absconding in the case.

Image: Survivors of the Bhopal Gas tragedy protest in front of the Parliament | Photograph: Reuters

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