The country is seething in anger since the Bhopal court announced a mere two-year jail term for the eight convicted in the 23-year-old Bhopal gas tragedy case.
Many things went wrong -- the prime accused in the case, Union Carbide Company cheif Warren Anderson, was 'missing', charges in the case were diluted, the trial was delayed and finally the sentence was too late and frivolous compared to the enormous tragedy that killed over 15,000 people.
Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa questions B R Lall, former joint director for the Central Bureau of Investigation, who headed the investigation in the case between 1994 and 1995, in search of answers to the many questions in the case.
What are your thoughts on the judgment?
The judgment falls short of the expectations of the public. One gets the feeling that justice has not been done, especially when the case was concerning such a shocking tragedy. (Former chief justice of India) Justice Ahmedi too had pointed out that they had no option but to implement the law.
There have been many reports on Warren Anderson's extradition in this case. What do say about this?
The CBI had moved for Anderson's extradition in 1993 after he was declared as an absconder. However in 1994, when the chargesheet was already filed, we received a communication from the ministry of external affairs that asked us not to pursue his extradition.
Did you resist the move? Why?
Yes I did, but the agency at that point of time enjoyed no independence. The decision to not extradite Anderson was not of the CBI. We have investigated the matter and he was the main accused in the case. His presence in the country was very crucial to the trial.
What was the reason given by the MEA in that communication and why do you think such a communication was issued?
No reason was given. Moreover, when such communications are sent by high-ranking officials, they never give out reasons.
There is talk that (the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh) Arjun Singh played a big role in letting Anderson go. Do you think he influenced this decision?
I will not take names here. I just heard an official from Bhopal saying that he got a call from the then chief secretary to meet Anderson in jail and to escort him out. The man (Anderson) was then escorted to the airport, a plane was arranged and he was asked to leave. The reason cited for this was that his (Anderson's) life was in danger here (India). This basically explains it all. Why did the state have to accord VIP treatment to him when he was the main accused in the case?
His leaving the country was clearly state-managed and it was not correct to give him such a treatment. With these statements emerging, it becomes official that the entire thing was managed at the behest of the state.
Now that the verdict is out, what is the next course of action?
An appeal in the high court bears no consequence at all. We had booked the accused under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, which states culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Under this provision, the accused people, if found guilty, will face a jail term of up to 10 years. However, the accused moved the Supreme Court and the highest court of the land had changed the section to Section 304 (a) of the IPC, which deals with death due to negligence and carries a maximum of two years in jail.
So in such a situation what can the high court possibly do? There is no way in which they can interfere with the judgment of the Supreme Court.
So what is the way out?
The state should first knock on the doors of the Supreme Court and get the earlier order reviewed. A higher punishment can be demanded only after that.
Are you saying that the Supreme Court order came in the way of this verdict?
The Supreme Court should not have interfered. It should have waited for the entire evidence to come on record and then decided. It is sad that in all high-flying cases, people are able to get premature intervention by the higher courts. Our courts are too eager to intervene and sometimes, I feel, they are accused-friendly, when they should be neutral.
In this instant, when the case was halfway through it decided that the punishment should be meted out under Section 304 (a). What option does this leave for the lower courts when a de facto judgment is already passed?
When the state appeals against this verdict, the high court should first refer this matter to the Supreme Court.
Do you think India must still go ahead with Anderson's extradition? Is that of any use now?
Yes, of course, they should. The principle liability is still with him and he has to be brought down and tried in the case. I feel that the government of India should not shut out and should take all measures to extradite Anderson and try him.
Image: B R Lall