Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Supreme Court dismisses Centre's plea for hiking compensation for victims
The Supreme Court on Tuesday disposed of a curative petition filed by the Union of India seeking additional compensation for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, to be paid by US-based chemical company, Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemicals).
The Constitution Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice Abhay S. Oka, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J.K. Maheshwari observed that settlement could be set aside only on the ground of fraud, however, no ground of fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India.
It further said that imposing greater liability on UCC was not warranted and reopening the issue would only lead to opening a pandora’s box, which could be detrimental to the claimants.
The Bench also expressed its displeasure over the Union Government not taking out insurance policies as directed by the Apex Court, in order to make good the deficiency in compensation.
Terming the government’s inaction as gross negligence and in breach of the judgment of this Court, the Bench said the Central government could not be negligent on this aspect. The government could not seek a prayer from this Court to fix the responsibility on UCC, it added.
The Apex Court further directed the Union government to utilise the amount of Rs 50 crore lying with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to satisfy pending claims.
It further took note of the UCC’s allegation that both the Union government as well as the State government did not detoxify the environment.
the Apex Court said it was ‘unsatisfied’ with the Central government for not furnishing any rationale for raking up this issue after two decades.
The Apex Court further noted that nearly six times compensation has been disbursed to the victims compared to the pro rata. Earlier on January 12 this year, the top court of the country had reserved its verdict in the case.
The petitions, including those by survivor and victims organisations seeking impleadment, sought enhancement of compensation for deaths and injuries caused by the 1984 tragedy.
By way of this curative petition, the Union government had challenged the settlement amount given by Dow Chemicals to the families of victims and survivors of the tragedy.
The Bench noted during the proceedings that it could not turn the case into a suit to determine the compensation afresh, and reiterated the limitations of its jurisdiction under curative petitions.
The Bench further remarked that it was incorrect to argue that the settlement was thrust on the parties concerned.
Attorney General (AG) R. Venkataramani represented the Central government, while Senior Advocate Harish Salve appeared for the Union Carbide Corporation.
The petitioner organisations were represented by Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh and Advocate Karuna Nundy.
(Case title: Union of India and Ors vs vs Union Carbide Corporation and Ors)