Bringing down the curtain on the legal proceedings that have continued for nearly four decades, a five-judge panel comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, Abhay S Oka, Vikram Nath and JK Maheshwari dismissed the curative petition – the last resort in legal proceedings – filed by the Center for compensation in excess of the amount of $470 million (approximately Rs 750 crore) paid by the US company in 1989 for full and final settlement covering all disputes, claims and liabilities arising out of the industrial disaster which claimed 5,295 lives.
Calling for more compensation, the Center said the damage done to life and the environment had not been correctly estimated in 1989 and that more people had died or suffered over the years, which needs to be taken into account. But the court said there wasn’t legal basis in the Centre’s request for higher reparations and this too after agreeing to a mutually acceptable settlement.
The government and the company had signed the agreement in 1989, which was also approved by the apex court. Some NGOs and interested individuals had challenged the Supervisory Committee’s order by submitting petitions for review which were rejected, but the Center preferred not to ask for a review at the time. She filed the curative petition in 2010, and it took the apex court 13 years to decide.
The court not only found no merit in the Centre’s request and disapproved of its decision to take up the matter again, but also stated that there was “gross negligence” on the part of the Government in failing to provide insurance coverage to survivors of the tragedy of the 1984 as directed by the court in its verdict.
Finding flaws in the Center’s claim, the court pointed out that the Government itself had claimed that the settlement amount was sufficient for compensation and the Welfare Commissioner had also stated in his report that all those affected had been compensated and the The amount was six times higher than the compensation paid in road accident cases in the country. The court also noted that Rs 50 crore from the settlement amount remained unused.
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“We are dissatisfied with the Union of India for failing to provide any reason to resolve this issue,” the court said.
Calling out the Center for failing to provide insurance coverage to the victims, the court said, “Responsibility has been placed on the Union of India, being a welfare state, to fill the shortfall and take out the relevant insurance policy. Surprisingly, we are informed that no such insurance has been taken out. This is gross negligence on the part of the Union and in violation of the judgment of this court. The Union cannot be negligent on this matter and therefore ask this court for a prayer to hold Union Carbide accountable.”
Tragedy struck Bhopal on the night of 2nd to 3rd December 1984 when the highly dangerous and toxic gas Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) escaped from the factory of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). It resulted in the deaths of 5,295 people, the injuries of nearly 5,68,292, as well as the loss of livestock and the loss of property.
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The court said at the hearing that the government calling for the final deal to be reopened could have wider ramifications as there would be no sanctity for the Centre’s insurance, particularly as many international companies are coming to the country for investment. . The bench said it was a mutually acceptable settlement and that the “sanctity of the settlement” would vanish if the case were reopened.
The company had strongly objected to Centre’s request and said that the transaction was accepted by the apex court after more than sufficient judicial review and that Centre, having benefited from the readily available liquidation fund, cannot now put dispute the amount of the transaction.
“Should this deal be voided, UCC’s appeal and Union of India’s case in Bhopal District Court would resume and in first instance UOI would have to bring evidence to establish liability against UCC, and UCC shall be eligible to receive $470 million, which will be remitted by UOI with interest,” the company said in its response.
Clock Supreme Court rejects Curative Center’s appeal for more compensation for victims of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy