New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday dismissed the Narendra Modi government’s curative petition, seeking a direction to the American chemical company Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) to pay additional compensation to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.
A Constitution bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul declined the government’s plea to reopen the case, observing that imposing a greater liability on UCC was unwarranted.
“We are unsatisfied with the Union of India for not furnishing any rationale for raking up this issue after two decades,” said the bench, reading out the operative part of the verdict.
The court put the onus on the Union of India “to make good the deficiency in the compensation”. The failure to take insurance policies is gross negligence on the part of Union, the court said, adding a settlement can only be set aside on the ground of fraud, which is not alleged in the present case.
“The method to impose greater liability on UCC is not warranted. We are disappointed in the union for not having addressed this. Nearly 6 times compensation has been disbursed to the victims compared to the pro rata. Centre to use ₹50 crores lying with RBI to address the needs of the claimants in the Bhopal gas tragedy case. If it is reopened, then it will only work in favour of UCC by opening a pandora’s box and will be to the detriment of the claimants,” the Court said.
While noting that the Commission — especially set-up to decide compensation for the victims- had already settled all the claims, the bench ordered the Centre to utilise the Rs 50 crore lying with the central bank, RBI to satisfy the pending claims.
UCC’s allegations that both Centre and the state did not detoxify the environment and also had a role in negligence weighed with the court as it refused to entertain the curative plea.
The bench had on 12 January reserved its verdict on the Centre’s petition aligning pleas filed by victims of the tragedy demanding an enhancement of the compensation
The government in 2010 filed the curative petition arguing the earlier settlement – in 1989 — was based upon incorrect assumptions on the number of deaths, injuries and losses, and had not taken into account the subsequent environmental degradation.
The Centre wanted the case reopened and demanded an additional recompense of $1.1 billion to victims from Union Carbide’s successor Dow Chemicals.
In 1989, Union Carbide had agreed to pay $470m to settle the initial fight for compensation. The government, which argued on behalf of the survivors, had asked for $3.3bn.
However, in 2010, the government decided to review the compensation after an outcry over Union Carbide’s executives receiving just two-year sentences and minor fines.
The Bhopal gas leak, considered the world’s worst industrial disaster killed 3,500 people within days, according to government estimates, while 15,000 more died over the years.
Activists put the death toll as high as 25,000 and say the repercussions are felt even till today.
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