Extra Compensation for Bhopal Gas Victims: Centre to Pursue Curative Petition
Representatives of five NGOs representing the Bhopal gas victims protest in Delhi on Monday.
Bhopal: The Centre informed the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday that it is “keen” to pursue the curative petition filed by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance government in 2010 seeking additional compensation of Rs 7,844 crore from Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemical Company) for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victims.
The ministry of chemicals and fertilisers had assured representatives of NGOs working with the victims on Monday of pursuing the petition after they protested in Delhi and met with ministry officials.
The petition, which has been dormant for the last 12 years, had contended that the $470-million settlement was based on incorrect assumptions about the quantum of deaths, injuries and losses. The settlement was also based on the earlier figure of 3,000 deaths and 70,000 cases of injury when as many as 5,295 people died and 5,27,894 sustained grave injuries.
Requesting time for preparation in reopening the case, attorney general (AG) R Venkataramani on Tuesday informed a five-Judge Constitution Bench that the “government is very keen to pursue this matter. I have applied
my mind to the review aspect and the various other challenges in reopening this matter,” LiveLaw reported.
“But having regard to the concern of the government that we cannot abandon the victims … because the tragedy is unfolding every day,” Venkataramani added. “I am sure we will be able to assist the court with this very challenging case, where more than one aspect of the matter may have to be unravelled.”
The Bench, headed by Justice SK Kaul and also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, AS Oka, Vikram Nath and JK Maheshwari, will deliver a verdict next year.
During the earlier hearing on September 20, the court had directed solicitor general Tushar Mehta to get instructions from the government on its stand on the issue. “We have to see if the government will press the curative plea,” the Bench pointed out. The SC had sought a reply from the government by Tuesday.
While Dow Chemical has accused the Centre of trying to renege on the settlement and violating the rule of law, the victims and their families and NGOs representing allege that the compensation was not adequate.
Advocate Karuna Nundy, representing the claimants, accused Dow Chemical of “playing fraud on the Court”. Referring to an internal document, which she claimed that it had details about how methyl isocyanate, the gas released from the pesticide plant in Bhopal, would lead to permanent injuries. She claimed that despite the respondents knowing about it, 98% of the claimants received damages only for temporary injuries.
“The victims have to be given an opportunity to be heard before this court comes to a conclusion. Now that the attorney general has made such a heartening statement, we are hopeful that we will be given due regard,” Nundy said.
The counsel for the respondents, including senior advocates Sidharth Luthra and Ravindra Shrivastav, argued, inter alia, that the petition is not maintainable and that the NGOs have no locus standi to be impleaded as parties.
After hearing the submissions made by the AG and the other counsel, Justice Kaul orally pronounced: “Learned attorney general has taken a stand before us that the government would like to press this curative petition. A number of non-governmental organisations seek to be added as parties before us. The respondents say that the very maintainability of the
curative petition will have to be examined as it comes 19 years after this judgement was passed and without going through the process of a review application.”
Since the “persons who filed the review applications from which orders were passed have not filed a curative
petition” the Bench directed the government to “represent the claims of the persons who have suffered. A compilation would be required to be prepared by the office of the attorney general and the respondents which will be the compilation alone to be referred to by us in the proceeding”.
“In so far as the applicant associations are concerned, we do not give any liberty to file any pleadings. But in the relevant stage, we will see to what extent assistance can be given by the counsels and we do not foreclose the right to be heard by us at our discretion. The joint compilation will be prepared within eight weeks as prayed for. The parties will also file a brief synopsis,” the Bench further said fixing the next hearing on January 10, 2023.
After the SC’s strong comment, there were rumours that the ministry may withdraw the petition. Subsequently, around 50 woman gas victims demonstrated in front of Nirman Bhavan expressing apprehension that the Centre may withdraw the petition. The NGOs also submitted a representation addressed to the ministry, the nodal agency for matters concerning the gas disaster.
“Any withdrawal of the curative petition, without due regard to the victims’ stand on the issue, will be in contravention of the Central government’s statutory and constitutional duty,” the protesters said in the press release.
“Today, the officials at the ministry have assured us that tomorrow [Tuesday] at the hearing in the Supreme Court, the government will continue to pursue the case for additional compensation. We will be at the hearing tomorrow to see for ourselves,” said Rachna Dhingra, of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
Goldman Environmental Prize awardee and president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Rashida Bee, said, “After years of struggle, the government recognised that the compensation granted to Bhopal survivors was grossly inadequate. Therefore, it filed a petition in the Supreme Court to cure it. But the successive governments did not take up the petition forward.”
Balkrishna Namdeo, from Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Manch, said, “As co-petitioners with the Indian government in this matter, we have presented proven evidence to show that to compensate for the true scale of injuries, illnesses, disability and deaths suffered in Bhopal requires much more than what is being demanded by the government of India from Union Carbide and Dow Chemical in the past.”
The government has “had 12 years to correct the figures of death and extent of injuries caused in the disaster,” Namdeo added.
Another survivor Nawab Khan said, “When in Opposition in 2010, the BJP attacked the UPA government over compensation but remain tight-lipped after coming to power.”
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