The Supreme Court, on Monday, dismissed a plea filed by the Karnataka government for prosecuting two officials of a chemical factory at Belagavi for their alleged negligence, which led to the death of 16 people in a fire in 2007.
Besides the 16 people who lost their lives, 19 others received serious injuries.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and S A Bobde said that the two officials were a production manager and a microbiologist in the factory and they had already been prosecuted under the Factories Act and hence cannot be tried now under the Indian Penal Code for the same offence.
â€śThey don't appear to be people in charge. There can't be double prosecution. What would happen to Article 20 (protection of certain rights in case of conviction of offences),â€ť the bench said.
Representing the Karnataka government, Advocate Joseph Aristotle said that it was not a case of double jeopardy and there is no double prosecution. He said that 16 people had died in the incident and the officials could not be let off.
Unconvinced by Aristotleâ€™s argument, the apex court rejected the state's special leave petition, which was filed against the Karnataka High Court order dated February 18, 2016.
The High Court had quashed the criminal prosecution of Rana Ajay Kumar Singh, the production manager and Krantik Prasul Kumar Das, the microbiologist of Riddi Siddi Factory located in Gokak taluk of Belagavi district. The court, at the time, had stated that the duo had already pleaded guilty in the proceedings initiated under the Factories Act and were convicted on February 7, 2013, and had paid Rs 1,87,500 in fine.
It also held that the duo could not be prosecuted for the same offence a second time, as it would amount to double jeopardy.
The accident had occurred due to negligence on behalf of one of the victims of the fire, who lit a beedi in an enclosed area, in the presence of combustible gas and substances.
The SC upheld the High Courtâ€™s statement that there were no lacunae on behalf of the officials in taking primary precautions to ensure that the fire did not spread throughout the factory.