NEW DELHI: Victims of the Bhopal gas disaster suffered a setback after India's top court on Tuesday dismissed the Union government's curative plea seeking additional compensation of Rs 7,844 crore from the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) (now Dow Chemical Company) to the victims of the 1984 tragedy which killed over 3000 people.
A five-judge bench headed by Justice SK Kaul said that the sum of Rs 50 crore that is lying with RBI shall be used for satisfying the pending claims if any under the scheme.
The apex court criticised the government for its failure to make a good deficiency in compensation and take out insurance policy. "This is gross negligence on the part of the union," the SC bench said.
The bench also expressed its dissatisfaction with regard to the government's failure to "furnish any rationale for taking up the issue after two decades."
The bench headed by Justice SK Kaul said that the sum of Rs 50 crore that is lying with RBI shall be used for satisfying the pending claims if any under the scheme.
The Court said that settlement can be set aside only on the ground of fraud and no ground of fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India.
The verdict was reserved by the bench on January 12, 2023. Justice Khanna, part of the bench had said that it was not correct to say that the settlement of 1989 was thrusted by the court on the parties.
"No settlement in a representative suit will be entered into without the leave of the court. So there will be some involvement of the court in a representative suit, but saying court deciding the amount is not correct," Justice Khanna said.
The bench said that SC had acted as a mediator to the settlement and was not a "third party" in the case.
"Now having settled, nothing prevents the Govt. from doing more for you. They (Union Govt) have apparently not done something that they were supposed to do for you. How do you say that a settlement subsists but top up the settlement? Can we do that?" remarked Justice SK Kaul.
On being informed that the toxic waste in the area had not been disposed of yet, Justice Kaul also asked as to why the union had not done anything in 40 years since the tragedy.
Centre had filed the plea in 2010 following a public outcry against the perceived laxity of sentences against the accused’s tried for the gas release. It had sought for enhancing the 1989 settlement agreement which was negotiated by the UOI with UCC and Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) and SC’s judgement approving the negotiation.
Advocate Karuna Nundy appearing for the NGO argued that the centre’s curative plea was valid as serious fraud was committed. Urging the bench to unravel the fraud and set aside the settlement, she contended that UCC had suppressed material facts that lead to a "gross miscarriage" of justice.
For the victims of the tragedy, Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh argued that while deciding the quantum of the 1989 settlement, the court had participated actively. Referring to the court laying emphasis on the justness of the settlement, Parikh further said that the court could reconsider the settlement on the emergence of new facts.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve for the UCC submitted that although the possession of land was taken over by the Madhya Pradesh government in 1989 but the state government had approached HC for directing the UCC to pay for waste disposal. He also added that UCC had paid 470 million dollars under the settlement amount.
For the centre, Attorney General R Venkataramani added that there was no clause in the settlement for "renegotiation."
The Centre wanted 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 UCC, now owned by Dow Chemicals, gave a compensation of Rs USD 470 million 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 NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)