Supreme Court on Tuesday re-opened the Bhopal gas disaster case on a Central Bureau of Investigation plea, agreeing to re-examine its own judgment that allowed those convicted to walk away with light sentences. It has now opened the door for the convicts to be tried under a more stringent law - culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
The court decided to review its 1996 verdict after the CBI filed a curative petition requesting it to restore the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (IPC section 304-Part II) against seven persons and make them face trial again.
After the 1996 judgment, the accused faced trial under section 304A (causing death due to negligence). On 7 June this year, they were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment by the Bhopal trial court.
The charges under section 304 part-II were diluted to section 304A by a Supreme Court bench after the accused challenged the Madhya Pradesh high court judgment charging them with the stringent section.
On Tuesday, a bench comprising the apex court's three senior-most judges, Chief Justice S H Kapadia and justices Altamas Kabir and R V Raveendran, issued notice to the seven, including Union Carbide chairman Keshub Mahindra. Chamber proceedings in the case further stated the matter would be heard immediately after the seven are served with the court notice. In a brief order, the Bench said, ''Issue notice. These petitions be listed after service [of notice] is completed.''
It is very rare for the Supreme Court to admit curative petitions - the last resort against its own judgment - unless it finds reasonable evidence to show the earlier judgment caused gross miscarriage of justice.