On March 14, the Supreme Court (SC) of India dismissed the Government of India’s curative petition seeking to reopen a settlement with the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC, now Dow Chemicals) for additional compensation to victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
The SC’s Constitutional Bench, comprising of Justices SK Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, AS Oka, Vikram Nath and JK Maheshwari, said, “If it is reopened, then it may open a pandora’s box and will be detrimental to the claimants. The curative petition cannot be entertained.”
The Court said that the Government of India’s curative petition has no basis in legal principles stating, “Either a settlement is valid, or it has to be set aside on the ground that it has been vitiated on the ground of fraud. No such fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India.”
The Court observed that the failure to take insurance policies is gross negligence on the Government of India’s part. The Court said, “The Union has filed the curative petition seeking to reopen the settlement. The responsibility was placed on the Union of India, being a welfare state, to make good the deficiency (in the compensation) and to take out the relevant insurance policy.
Surprisingly, we are informed that no such insurance policy was taken out. This is gross negligence on the part of Union and in breach of the judgment of this Court. The Union cannot be negligent on this aspect and then seek a prayer from this Court to fix such responsibility on the UCC.” “We are unsatisfied with the Union of India for not furnishing any rationale for raking up this issue more than two decades after the incident,” the Court added.
In the Government of India’s curative petition for enhanced compensation for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims, the Government seeks the Court’s direction to Union Carbide for over Rs. 7,400 crores additional amount as compensation. The sought additional amount is over and above the earlier settlement amount of USD 470 million (Rs. 715 crores) made in 1989.
The counsel for UCC (now Dow Chemicals), Senior Advocate Harish Salve, asserted that the Government of India reached a full and final settlement with the UCC in 1989; therefore, there is no scope for re-opening the same. However, the counsel for organisations and victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Advocate Karuna Nundy, submitted that the UCC suppressed material facts which go to the root of the settlement.
The Government of India’s curative petition argued that the earlier settlement did not consider subsequent environmental degradation; therefore, it had an incorrect assumption of the number of deaths, injuries, and losses. According to the Government of India’s plea, the actual figures stand at 5,295 death and 5,27,894 injured, while the earlier number stood at 3,000 deaths and 70,000 injured, Live Law reported.
However, Justice Oka noted that the SC’s review judgement that if there was a shortfall in compensation, then the same ought to be paid by the Government of India, Live Law reported. Furthermore, he observed that the SC directed the Government of India to take out insurance policies for at least 1 lakh people in their 1991 judgement to take care of future claims, which the Government of India did not implement.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is touted as the world’s worst industrial disaster claiming thousands of lives after toxic gas, methyl isocyanate (MIC), leaked from the Union Carbide India Limited’s pesticide plant on the intervening night of December 2 & 3 in 1984.