The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce its verdict today on the Centre’s curative plea seeking an additional Rs 7,844 crore from Union Carbide Corporation’s successor firms to extend higher compensation to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy that killed over 3,000 people and caused environmental damage.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul will pronounce the verdict. The bench, also 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 Centre’s curative plea.
On January 12, the successor firms of UCC told the top court that the depreciation of the rupee since 1989, when a settlement was arrived at between the company and the Centre, cannot be a ground to now seek a “top-up” of compensation for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
The firms had told the top court that the Government of India never suggested at the time of the settlement that it was inadequate.
“There are series and series of affidavits starting from 1995 and ending as late as 2011, where the Union of India has opposed every single attempt to suggest that the settlement (of 1989) is inadequate. Affidavits upon affidavits were filed,” senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the UCC successor firms had submitted.
Now, the actual argument before the court is that the settlement has become inadequate because the rupee depreciated, he had contended.
The top court had, during the hearing, told the Centre that it cannot act like a “knight in shining armour” and decide the curative plea seeking additional funds from UCC as a civil suit, and asked the government to “dip into its own pocket” to provide enhanced compensation.
The Centre wants another Rs 7,844 crore from the UCC’s successor firms over and above the USD 470 million (Rs 715 crore) it got from the American company as part of the settlement in 1989.
A curative petition is the last resort for a plaintiff after an adverse judgement has been delivered and the plea for its review is rejected. The Centre had not filed a review petition for rescinding the settlement which it now wants to be enhanced.
The Centre has been insisting 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.
On January 10, the top court had questioned the Centre for pursuing its curative plea seeking additional funds from UCC, saying the government cannot reopen a settlement that was reached with the company after over 30 years.
The UCC, now owned by Dow Chemicals, gave a compensation of Rs USD 470 million (Rs 715 crore at the time of settlement in 1989) after the toxic methyl isocyanate gas leak from the Union Carbide factory on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984 killed over 3,000 people and affected 1.02 lakh more.
The survivors of the tragedy have long been fighting for adequate compensation and proper medical treatment for ailments caused by the poisonous gas leak.
The Centre had filed the curative petition in the top court in December 2010 for enhanced compensation. On June 7, 2010, a Bhopal court had sentenced seven executives of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) to two years imprisonment.
The then UCC chairman Warren Anderson was the prime accused in the case but did not appear for the trial.
On February 1, 1992, the Bhopal CJM court declared him an absconder. The courts in Bhopal had issued non-bailable warrants against Anderson twice in 1992 and 2009 before his death in September 2014.
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