Worst Legal Disaster!
Worst legal disaster
By Raajkumar Keswani
A simple calculation will tell you that the 2 years imprisonment to 7 persons for the death of 25,000 human beings virtually comes to just 35 minutes jail for each death. And the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal Mohan P.Tiwari still claims that – “Surely justice has been done.”
It’s June 7, 2010. The day of the verdict. I was keen to reach at the Bhopal District court to hear the verdict, I have been waiting for the past 23 years since when the case against the Union Carbide is pending over here.
Once I entered inside the court premises, I realized that I am going to face the faces similar to me.
The faces of Bhopal gas victims. To my utter amazement, I was greeted with the voices of great jubilation from the stairs of the court room. These were the voices of the women who have been keeping the issue of Bhopal alive by fighting on the streets of Bhopal under the leadership of some male.
Their voices and faces were so typical that of a women but its spirit was so similar to me. They were more manly then the men in their roar and were so sound in their affirmation for justice that I felt elated. To be honest, I felt like being one of them.
Once I managed to get beyond the glass door entrance of the court, I was just face to face with a court room where was to be announced a verdict, I have been waiting for the past 23 years along with the rest of the city population. But there, at the entrance of the CJM court I was greeted by the police. I was informed that I was not allowed in the court room where the judgment was to be pronounced. So much so, no media person or even victims organizations would be allowed inside. That was the CJM order, according to them.
I, standing at the entrance, tried every trick to convince the police officers manning the gate to allow me inside since I was not only a journalist but also a petitioner in the Supreme Court for the restoration of the ongoing criminal case and a w8itness in the case. Their answer: you shall not be allowed.
I stood patiently at the gate with them and there came accused one after another. Keshub Mahindra, who was greeted by the name of Kassab Mahindra by some aggrieved women sitting out. Mahindra was the chairman of Union Carbide India Ltd. When the disaster took place, He was followed after a while by Kishore Kamdar, who was the vice president of the company.
It was quite funny in his case. As soon he reached the gate and tried to enter he was asked if he was an accused, since the police were under instructions to allow accused and their lawyers alone. In response to the police query, if he was an accused his reply was I am Kishore Kamdar. Police officers held him back by informing him – ‘only accused would be allowed inside’. At this I put my hand at Kamdar’s shoulder and told police officers, he was Kishore Kamdar and was an accused.
Police once again asked him if he was an accused. He quite reluctantly nodded in yes. Police officer looked at the list in his hand and queried : ‘Kishore Kamdar?’. Once he said – yes. He was greeted with a respectful voice of ‘ aaiye Kamdar saheb’ (come in Mr. Kamdar Sir’.
Soon arrived another 4 persons together. Vijay Gokhale, former MD UCIl, J.Mukund, the then works manager of the plant, S.P.Chaudhary , Former production manager, K.V.Shetty, Plant suptdt.. I knew that Shakeel Qureshi, down with a paralytic attack would not be able reach and the eighth one R.B.Roy Chaudhry was already dead.
Once me and the rest of media persons insisted for entry to hear the verdict, police officers threatened in a stern voice not to even think of entering since the CJM has denied the access to media or anyone else in the court room. When I tried to argue my right to hear the verdict since it was not a trial in camera situation I was attacked by the brute force of the criminals in uniform.
I could not enter the court room and the CJM had already occupied the chair to pronounce the long awaited verdict. First information came out from a Mahindra accomplice from inside : all accused pronounced guilty under section 304 (a). Than came out a slow paced information from inside through this and that about the ongoing arguments over the quantum of punishment to be decided. Two years ? or 1 year ? or just 6 months ? or a fine alone.
It was an expected two year imprisonment to all and an instant bail against a surety of Rs. 25, 000 each. They all feel relieved they will go back home. They had come with return tickets in their pockets.
They all came out under a police protection. Police batons did not spare those who tried to approach these ‘respected criminals’ for any reaction. They went back, the way they had come. The drama of justice was over in nearly four hours time, for which the people in Bhopal and outside Bhopal have been waiting for the past 23 years.
Law minister of the country M. Veerapa Moily described the verdict as ‘Justice buried’. The elated CJM on the ‘day of his glory’ came out to declare “Surely justice has been done.”
I am sitting here at my desktop after a hectic day at the Bhopal district court on Monday and a sleepless night at home. Have been trying since morning to bring back my sanity to reach at a conclusion; as to what actually has happened.
All that, though, is past, but has not lapsed so far into time. I have lived all these 25 years with souring memories of the unspent past and its extension to the present. Each dark frame of the fateful night rolls down my eyes. The MIC gas leaking out in the midnight of that chilling month of December. People moving on the dark streets coughing and gasping for breath. Some collapsing mid way some still moving. No helping hand around to guide. What to do under these circumstances? It was a situation of total chaos.
25 years and 6 months since that night, survivors of the killer gas, wake up in the morning with a hope that the new day could be a better day for them. But hopes would always be hopes. Most of these are born only to get dashed off against some hopeless situation. And this Monday morning too proved no exception to this rule.
This, to me is another Ruchika v/s Rathore case, where Rathore, earlier was let off with a lighter sentence but had to face a tougher one, in result of a fight put on bravely by Ruchika friends. In Bhopal case too all the accused barring the absconder Warren Anderson have been at least declared guilty. This leaves open the option for another round of battle in the court room for a more stringent punishment.
In the past 25 years some of lawyers involved in the case have died. Some of the judges are gone too. More than 10 to 12 thousand victims too have passed away during this period. Some more will die till the justice, victims are craving for, is achieved. Those who die in the intervening period may include some of the accused, who are already ‘old and full of years’.
I could be proved wrong, only if the law minister M. Veerapa Moily , remains true to his feelings against the Bhopal injustice. A move for the creation of a fast track court certainly can do the trick.