Desh Ki Baat

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Supreme Court asked Centre to compensate Victims

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: The SC mandated that the Modi Govt  to pay off outstanding debts

A 5-judge constitutional bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul dismissed the Centre’s curative plea for enhanced compensation for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy from US-based film Union Carbide Corporation now owned by Dow Chemicals. The Supreme court on March 14, mandated that the Government of India used the 50 crores being held by The Reserve Bank of India to pay off outstanding debts. The court said that reopening the case would open a Pandora’s Box and would be detrimental to the claimants, adding that the curative petition cannot be entertained. The court also noted that the failure to take insurance policies is gross negligence on the part of the government of India.

The night of 2-3 December 1984 mark one of the most tragic and unfortunate incidents in Indian history. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, an incident that happened 38 years ago, still has imprints on people’s lives. It caused the death of more than 5000 people and injured more than 5 lakh people. It 2018, The Atlantic, a leading magazine in America called it the “world’s worst industrial disaster.”

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Why is the Case in the news right now?

In 2010, a curative petition was filed by the Central Government that challenged the settlement amount made by Union Carbide. In October, 2022 the Centre had expressed its desire to continue its perusal of the petition. An amount of $470 million was agreed upon in 1989 when the case was settled. However, an increase in compensation is being sought because of the persistence of illnesses among the victims. The government is looking for the Union Carbide to pay Rs. 7,400 crores more.  

In response to that, the apex court recently stated that the case Union of India v. Union Carbide Corporation could not be reopened again.

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The Constitutional Bench comprised Justices Sanjay Kishan KaulSanjiv KhannaAbhay S OkaVikram Nath, and JK Maheshwari. They questioned the Attorney General (AG) R Venkataramani on why compensation was being sought now after the case had already been settled.

The settlement was arrived at a particular stage of time. 10-20 years later can we open it up again on the basis of some fresh documents? It was by two parties. One of them is the Union of India, not a weak party. What has been troubling us is the scope of this after the period of time. Maybe you are right that settlement was not the best. But can we reopen it?”

The SC further added that revisiting the final settlement can also impact the current investment structure in India when many international companies are investing here. 

Though the AG maintained that the Government was looking for an amendment of the initial settlement amount to meet legitimate demands from the victims, the SC did not agree. 

Justice Khanna said- “”The problem is…26 years down the line, can you revisit compensation in a curative? For revised death figures I can understand. But the minor injuries, revising it so much indicates a possible ulterior motive.”

The Supreme Court also bought to the notice of the Government how 50 crores of the $470 million still remains undisbursed. It said that with such an amount still lying unused, how could the Government ask for more funds. The Bench further added that if the Government was so concerned about the victims, they should ‘dip into their own pockets’ and make the payments. Being a welfare society, the government could sure take responsibility to pay more if they felt like the victims were not compensated well. 

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Harshita Bajaj

Harshita has a background in Psychology and Criminology and is currently pursuing her PhD in Criminology. She can be found reading crime thrillers (or any other book for that matter) or binge-watching shows on Netflix when she is not in hibernation.
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