By The Hindu

NEW DELHI FEB. 10. Several Central trade unions today expressed shock and surprise over the report about the industrialist, Keshub Mahindra, having been chosen for the Padma Bhushan Award and asked the Central Government to revoke the decision.

As an accused in the Bhopal gas leak disaster criminal case he should not be honoured, the CITU, the AITUC and the HMS said.

``We find it absolutely incredible that the Government has chosen an accused in a criminal case against whom a prima facie case was made out by the prosecution for framing of charges as one of the nominees for the prestigious national award,'' the unions said in a joint statement.

They further pointed out that, under the law, the Government has the constitutional obligation to represent the Bhopal gas victims in their fight for justice and ensure that the accused are brought to trial and prosecution. But in ``blatant contravention'' of the existing law, the Government has gone out of its way to bequeath an honour on an accused with a view to obliterating his tarnished image and to elevate his prestige among the people.

``This seemingly benign gesture has left a deep suspicion that the Government has de-facto absolved the accused of all charges. It appears that the Government has opted to defend the very accused it is constitutionally bound to prosecute'', the union said.

Accusing the Government of displaying utter contempt for the cause of Bhopal gas victims through its injudiciousness, the unions said the Government had not only abdicated its constitutional responsibility but also made a complete mockery of the criminal justice system.

While urging the Government to revoke the decision, the unions said ``it is our fervent hope that the President will uphold constitutional propriety and the rule of law and get this award revoked.''