In a big setback for the centre, the Supreme Court today dismissed its petition seeking more compensation from Union Carbide for the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The gas leak that killed over 3,000 people is among the world’s worst industrial disasters.
The centre had sought that the case be reopened and Union Carbide’s successor firms be directed to pay additional compensation worth Rs 7,844 crore to victims of the gas leak disaster. The government had argued that the enormity of the actual damage caused to human lives and the environment could not be assessed properly at the time of the settlement in 1989.
Rejecting the petition, the five-judge Constitution bench said the settlement can be set aside only on the ground of fraud and that the centre had not argued on this point.
The court also said that the centre had not provided any rationale for raking up this matter after two decades. It directed that a sum of Rs 50 crore lying with the Reserve Bank of India be used to clear the pending compensation claims.
“We are unsatisfied with the Union of India for not furnishing any rationale for raking up this issue after two decades…We are of the view that curative petitions cannot be entertained,” the bench said.
“If it is reopened then it may open a pandora’s box and will be detrimental to the claimants,” it added.
The Constitution bench, headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice Abhay S Oka, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J K Maheshwar, had on January 12 reserved its verdict on the petition.
The successor firms of Union Carbide, represented by senior advocate Harish Salve, had told the court that depreciation of the rupee since 1989 cannot be a ground to seek a “top-up” of compensation now.
The firms had said that the centre never suggested at the time of the settlement that it was inadequate.
During the hearing, the court had asked the government to “dip into its own pocket” to provide more compensation.
The Union Carbide, now owned by Dow Chemicals, had paid compensation worth Rs 715 crore under the settlement in 1989.
On December 2,1984, toxic methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. Over 3,000 people were killed and more than a lakh affected.
The then Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson was prime accused in the case, but did not appear for the trial. A Bhopal court declared him an absconder in 1992. Two non-bailable warrants were issued before his death in 2014.
On June 7, 2010, a Bhopal court sentenced seven executives of Union Carbide India Limited to two years in jail.
The centre filed the curative petition in Supreme Court in December 2010 for more compensation.
A curative petition is the last resort after an adverse judgment has been delivered and a plea for review rejected. The Centre had not filed a review petition to rescind the settlement, but wanted to the amount to be enhanced.