The Supreme Court of India has rejected a petition filed by victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The Supreme Court dismissed the Centre’s appeal, which sought compensation from Union Carbide Corporation for the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims of Rs 7,400 crores.
The bench, led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, noted that all previous proceedings related to the incident before the Supreme Court unequivocally recorded that the $470 million settlement amount was sufficient to meet the victims’ current and future claims. As a result, the case cannot be reopened after two decades. (Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ SC Denies Union Carbide’s Request for Additional Compensation Latest News India – Hindustan Times, n.d.)
The five-judge bench, comprised of justices Sanjiv Khanna, AS Oka, Vikram Nath, and JK Maheshwari, chastised the government for failing to draft an insurance policy for the victims by an undertaking given to the court in 1991. It was referred to as “gross negligence” by the bench. It also stated that the government must address any financial deficiencies. (Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ SC Denies Union Carbide’s Request for Additional Compensation Latest News India – Hindustan Times, n.d.)
“We are dissatisfied with the Union of India for failing to provide any rationale for bringing this issue up after three decades…We believe curative petitions should not be entertained, “said the bench. (Rediff, n.d., Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ SC Rejects Centre’s Higher Compensation Plea.)
It also blamed the Union Government for failing to obtain insurance policies as directed by the Supreme Court. “The Union has filed the curative petition seeking to reopen the settlement,” it said. The Union of India, a welfare state, was charged with making up the difference (in compensation) and obtaining the necessary insurance policy. Surprisingly, we have learned that no such insurance policy was purchased. This is gross negligence on the part of the Union and a violation of the Court’s decision. The Union cannot be negligent and then petition this Court to impose such liability on the UCC.” (Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ Supreme Court Rejects Union Government’s Petition to Reopen Settlement, n.d.)
“The method used to increase UCC’s liability is not warranted. We are disappointed in the union for failing to address this issue. Victims have received six times the compensation compared to the pro rata. The Centre will use 50 crores in RBI funds to address the needs of claimants in the Bhopal gas tragedy case. If it is reopened, it will only benefit UCC by opening Pandora’s box, to the detriment of the claimants,” the court stated, according to Bar and Bench. (Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ Supreme Court Rejects Union Government’s Petition to Reopen Settlement, n.d.)
Despite this, the Supreme Court ordered that the victims receive the sum of Rs—50 crores held by the RBI (Reserve Bank of India).
Legal History of the Case
Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) agreed to pay $470 million in compensation five years after the 1984 tragedy. The Indian government then argued for the survivors, believing the settlement was inadequate and demanding $3.3 billion from the chemical plant.
The victims petitioned the Supreme Court, which upheld the settlement and instead asked Union Carbide to fund a $17 million hospital for the victims.
Following an outcry over the accused UCIL senior executive receiving only two-year prison sentences and minor fines, the Indian government reconsidered the compensation offered.
The Attorney General of India then filed a curative petition, requesting that the case be reopened and a 1.1 billion rupees increase in the settlement amount.
Understanding Legal technicalities, A curative petition.
A curative petition is a judicial innovation and a new concept in the Indian legal system, according to Article 137 of the Indian Constitution. It is the last and final resort for judicial redress of grievances, which is rarely given an open court hearing. The concept arose from the 2002 case of Rupa Ashok Hurra vs Ashok Hurra and Anr., which concerned whether an aggrieved person is entitled to any relief against the Supreme Court’s final judgment/order following the dismissal of a review petition. (ClearIAS, n.d., Special Leave Petition vs Review Petition vs Curative Petition vs Mercy Petition)
The court applied the Latin maxim “actus curiae neminem gravity,” which means that a court act should not prejudice anyone. Thus, it applies when the court is obligated to right a wrong done to a party by its actions. (ClearIAS, n.d., Special Leave Petition vs Review Petition vs Curative Petition vs Mercy Petition)
The Supreme Court ruled that it might reconsider its decisions to prevent abuse of its process and correct grave injustices.
The curative petition was filed during the Rupa Ashok Hurra vs Ashok Hurra case, which was of “Matrimonial Discord,” when the question of the validity of a divorce decree reached the Honorable Supreme Court of India (from now on, referred to as “the Apex Court”). The woman withdrew her consent that she agreed to while giving in to divorce through mutual consent—n.d. (Curative Petition_ Background and Procedure).
However, in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, the bench looked up the curative petition with dismay; the supreme court bench said in a statement, “We are dissatisfied with the Union of India for failing to provide any rationale for bringing this issue up after three decades…
“We believe that curative petitions should not be entertained,” said the bench. (Rediff, n.d., Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ SC Rejects Centre’s Higher Compensation Plea.)
Despite this, the judges did not rule out the possibility of re-hearing the case. “The settlement arrived at a specific point in time. Can we reopen it 10-20 years later based on new documents? Two people did it. The Union of India is one of them and is not a weak party. The scope of this after the period has been troubling us. You are correct that the settlement could have been better. “Can we, however, reopen it?” The judges stated. (Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ Supreme Court Rejects Union Government’s Petition to Reopen Settlement, n.d.).
In his article for “The Wire,” senior journalist N.D Jayaprakash questioned whether the settlement amount was adequate, claiming that the government still does not have a complete picture of the tragedy’s effects.
“…each gas victim received less than one-fifth of the compensation they should have received under the terms of the settlement. This is because the settlement fund, calculated based on the assumption of only 105,000 gas victims, was distributed to five times that number (573,000+) of gas victims, i.e., to 468,000+ additional gas victims who were not recognised as gas victims at the time of the settlement. (Bhopal Gas Tragedy_ Supreme Court Rejects Union Government’s Petition to Reopen Settlement, n.d.)
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