Details of Bhopal gas tragedy already in public domain, says HC, refuses to stay web series release

The Bombay High Court has refused to stay the release of the web series “The Railway Men The Untold Story of Bhopal 1984”, citing that the details of the event were already available in the public domain.

A vacation bench of Justice Arif Doctor on November 15 dismissed the petitions filed by two erstwhile employees of Union Carbide India Limited, who claimed that the series’ depiction of the events leading to the tragedy and its cause may cause prejudice to them.

One of the petitioners was in charge of the MIC plant as production manager, and the other was in charge of the pesticides factory of the UCIL.

The petitioners Satya Prakash Choudhry and J Mukund were convicted in the case. They later filed appeals against the conviction, which is pending.

The high court, while refusing to stay the release of the series, noted that the petitioners have failed to make out a “very strong and compelling prima facie case that the web series contains defamatory, slanderous or libellous material”.

“It cannot be disputed that the Bhopal gas tragedy was a most terrible and unfortunate event which made headlines and continued to remain in the news not only nationally but internationally for several years,” the court said.

The gas leak and the events surrounding it have been discussed and examined over the years, and they form the basis of several documentaries, movies, books and so on, which are available in the public domain, it said.

Refusing any relief by way of injunction, the bench held that the web series was neither a documentary nor narration of facts but is simply stated to be inspired by true events, which are all in the public domain.

It further noted that the petitioners were seeking a stay on the release of the series solely on the grounds that it could potentially cause grave injustice to them.

It said that the petitioners were found guilty way back in 2010 and the contents of the trial and judgment are available in the public domain.

The court said the makers of the series have included a disclaimer before each episode stating that it was a work of fiction inspired by real events.

The petitioners, in their pleas, sought an injunction on the release of the series, citing certain inhibitions over the depiction of the cause of the tragedy.

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The pleas claimed that they had no objection to the depiction of the role of those involved in the rescue work but had an issue with the portrayal of the cause/events leading up to the gas leak.

The depiction of events in the web series would possibly gravely prejudice the ongoing judicial proceedings against them, they said.

The makers of the series Yash Raj Films Private Limited said the pleas were baseless and misconceived and that the petitioners are not named, identified or blamed for the gas leak in the series, which is slated to release on November 18.

More than 3,000 people were killed, and lakhs were affected in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy that also caused environmental damage.

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