The verdict in the Bhopal Gas tragedy will be pronounced on June 7, 26 years after the disaster.
The date was announced by Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P. Tiwari in whose court the arguments of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and defence of eight accused were heard. Altogether 178 prosecution witnesses were examined and 3,008 documents exhibited.
CBI counsel had contended that the defective design of the Union Carbide India Limited factory and poor maintenance were responsible for the tragedy while the defence advocates refuted the charges and claimed that the firm's Bhopal factory adhered to the strictest safety norms.
CBI counsel C. Sahay told the court that the Union Carbide Corporation, US, surveyed the Bhopal factory in 1982 and found serious safety and maintenance lapses on nearly 10 counts.
Bhopal gas tragedy accused deny responsibility for mishap
Defence counsels D.Prasad and Amit Desai, however, refuted the prosecution charge that the company had decided to dismantle and shift its Bhopal plant to a foreign country following financial losses and, therefore, the factory was not in a good shape.
The eight accused have been tried under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including section 304 (A) (causing death by negligence), 336 (acts endangering life or personal safety of others) and 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).
The accused are: Keshub Mahendra, then chairman of the company; Vijay Gokhle, then managing director; Kishore Kamdar, then vice preside; J. Mukund, then works manager; S.P. Choudhary, then production manager; K.V. Shetty, then plant superintendent; and S.I. Qureshi, then production assistant.
The former chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation, Warren Anderson - who is also accused - is absconding.
The December 1984 tragedy occurred when the toxic leak from the Union Carbide Corporation's now defunct pesticide plant in the Madhya Pradesh capital killed and maimed thousands of people on the intervening night of December 2-3.
The counsel for six out of eight accused being tried in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case on Wednesday said his clients were being made scapegoats as they were not in any way responsible for the world's worst industrial disaster of 1984.
D Prasad, counsel for Vijay Gokhale, then Managing Director of Union Carbide of India Limited and five other accused, told the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Mohan P Tiwari that the CBI had wrongly made out a case against his clients.
He said that his clients were not responsible for the leak from the UCIL's Bhopal Factory (now defunct) which killed and maimed thousands of persons on the intervening night of December 2, 1984.
The defence counsel said that his clients were not in any way responsible for the defective design of the factory as pointed out by the scientists who visited the plant after the tragedy.
Prasad said that the factory had come up before his clients joined it.
For victims, the judgment is meaningless as it was not going to bring any of the main accused to book. "We've been betrayed so many times that the verdict fails to interest us," said Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan convener Abdul Jabbar.
He said government had decided to drop criminal charges without taking the victims into confidence in 1989. "We approached SC and on October 3, 1991 the SC directed that the criminal case cannot be dropped."
He said the original charge under section 304 (II) was serious and could have ensured an imprisonment up to 10 years. "But on September 13, 1996 SC reduced the charges against the eight Indian officials to 304 (A) which is death by negligence. The maximum punishment that we can expect for eight accused is up to two years imprisonment and Rs 5,000 fine," he said.
CBI had chargesheeted Union Carbide Corporation, Union Carbide (India) Limited, Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong, UCC chairman Warren Anderson and eight Indian officials for the tragedy on December 1, 1987. Thousands of people were killed in the gas poisoning.
Of all the accused, only the Indian officials and Union Carbide (India) Limited faced trial in the Bhopal court. The others including Anderson, Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide (Eastern) Hong Kong are absconding. Despite repeated demands by the gas victims, the government failed to extradite Anderson from the US. The Bhopal court had last issued a warrant against Anderson on July 22, 2009.