Setting a six-month deadline for the removal and disposal of toxic waste lying in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal for the past 28 years, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre and Madhya Pradesh government to do the job within the stipulated time frame, strictly in a scientific manner without causing further damage to human health and environment. A poisonous gas leak from the defunct factory on December 2-3, 1984, had resulted in the death of thousands and maiming of a lakh people. To ensure proper functioning of the Relief and Rehabilitation Programme, working of the expert bodies and utmost medical care and treatment to the gas victims, the apex court transferred the PIL filed by an NGO, Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan, in 1998, and other related pleas to the Madhya Pradesh High Court, for better and effective monitoring in the case. The apex court also dissolved the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, which was taken over by the Centre after former CJI AM Ahmadi resigned as its chairman. The Trust, with a corpus of R436.47 crore, was created for the healthcare of gas victims on the direction of the apex court in 1988. It also directed the accounts of the trust to be audited afresh till July 2010, despite a private chartered accountant pointing to no irregularity or objections. Private bodies and NGOs have estimated that around 27,000 tonnes of toxic waste is lying in and around the Carbide plant, gradually contaminating groundwater in nearby areas.
Free legal aid for poor
A poor accused is entitled to free legal assistance, irrespective of the severity of the crime attributed to him, at every stage of the justice delivery system and the same could not be restricted to the trial stage only. That right to free legal aid is a fundamental right and this guarantee must be available to the accused, the apex court said in the case of Rajoo @ Ramakant vs State of MP. The apex court also made it obligatory for every court, from trial court to the Supreme Court, to inquire whether the accused or convict required legal representation at the governments expense so as not to deprive the person a fair trial or hearing. It was setting aside a Madhya Pradesh High Court order that upheld the conviction and ten-year jail term of Rajoo in a gang rape case without any lawyer appearing for him. Disagreeing with earlier judgments that hinted at carving out exceptions for providing free legal assistance to accused facing trial in economic offences or offences against laws prohibiting prostitution or child abuse, the court said: If such exceptions are accepted, there may be a tendency to add some more, such as in cases of terrorism, thereby diluting the constitutional mandate and fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Delayed detention orders
Unreasonable delay and absence of proper explanation in communicating the grounds of detention under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, 1974 vitiates the order of detention, the apex court has held in the case of Saeed Zakir Hussain Malik vs State Of Maharashtra. It quashed the 2006 detention order issued against Malik, accused of involvement in fraudulent exports from Nhava Sheva Port by a syndicate in the name of fictitious firms, after an inordinate and unreasonable delay of 15 months. The executing authority had received the detention order issued by Maharashtra governments principal secretary (appeals and security). The apex court rejected the states plea that it made repeated attempts to serve the detention order on Malik but could not do so as he was absconding. If the detenu was absconding and was not available for the service of the detention order, the authorities could have taken steps for cancellation of the bail and for forfeiture of the amount deposited, it observed.