|Artistes enact the 1984 gas-leak disaster during a Special Olympics in Bhopal on July 26. (AFP)
New Delhi, Aug. 10: The Supreme Court has dissolved a trust that ran a hospital for Bhopal gas victims following a controversy involving the former judge who headed it.
The court has handed over the accounts and management of the 350-bed super-speciality hospital to the health ministry.
The Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust was created with funds from Union Carbide, whose plant leaked the gas, under the apex court’s orders in 1988. It came under a cloud after former Chief Justice of India A.H. Ahmadi took over as its lifetime chairman following his retirement in March 1997.
Justice Ahmadi had been part of a bench that had in 1996 diluted the charges against the gas-leak accused from a penal code section that carried a 10-year term to one that allowed only two years’ imprisonment.
This meant that when the accused were convicted in June 2010, they received only two-year terms, provoking public outrage. The trial court gave them bail the same day and they walked free.
Justice Ahmadi had already faced severe flak for saying that no review petition had ever been filed in the 1996 case — a claim contested by the victims’ families and NGOs. He came under further criticism after the June 2010 sentencing by the trial court.
Critics questioned the propriety of a judge who had diluted the charges against Union Carbide officials continuing to head a trust created with funds provided by the company.
Justice Ahmadi denied suggestions of impropriety but resigned soon afterwards. He sent an application to the Supreme Court requesting permission to quit the post. The handover process, however, took a long time and was completed only yesterday, with the court dissolving the trust with effect from July 19, 2010.
The bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar cited no reason for their decision. Court watchers, however, speculated that the objective was to side-step the controversy involving a former apex court judge.
The trust now has a corpus of Rs 436.47 crore. The auditor-general of Madhya Pradesh will now audit the hospital’s accounts annually.
Yesterday, the top court also decided to end its monitoring of schemes for the gas victims, after patting itself on the back for its role in ensuring they received proper help and rehabilitation. The Madhya Pradesh High Court will now monitor all such schemes.
The Supreme Court cited how “avoidable disasters resulting from human error/negligence... cause irretrievable damage to the health and environment for generations”.
“In such situations and where the laws are silent or are inadequate, the courts have unexceptionally stepped in to bridge the gaps, to provide for appropriate directions and guidelines,” it said.
“The Bhopal gas tragedy is a glaring example of such imbalances and adverse impacts where, by court’s intervention, poor and destitute have been provided relief and rehabilitation.”
As far back as July 1987, a scientific panel had estimated that the victims of the 1984 gas leak’s environmental effects numbered five lakh.