Bhopal Gas Tragedy Compensation Day #3: Sr. Adv. Salve Points Out Union’s Contradictory Stances, SC Reserves Judgment

Additional Compensation for Bhopal Gas Tragedy Victims

Judges: S.K. Kaul J, Sanjiv Khanna J, A.S. Oka J, Vikram Nath J, J.K. Maheshwari J

Today, the 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul concluded hearings in the Union’s plea to increase the compensation awarded to victims of the bhopal gas tragedy. The Bench heard Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh and Advocate Karuna Nundy, representing organisations created by victims of the tragedy during the morning session. In the afternoon, Sr. Adv. Harish Salve, representing Union Carbide, argued against enhancing the compensation and Attorney General R. Venkataramani briefly gave his final arguments. 

 

Background

In December 2010, the Union Government filed a curative petition against the 1989 settlement of $470 to the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. They sought additional funds of over ₹7,400 crores from the company. A Curative Petition is the last chance available to a party to ask the Court to reconsider a case it is filed after the court refuses to review a Judgment.

10 years later, on September 20th, 2022, the matter came up for hearing before a Constitution Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul. The Bench asked the Union to take a call on whether it intends to pursue the petition and report back to the court with its decision. On October 11th, 2022, the Union informed the Court that it would pursue the petition and make a demand for higher compensation for the victims.

According to Adv. Karuna Nandy, the Curative Petition is valid because a serious ‘fraud’ was committed. Material facts that were crucial to the settlement had been suppressed by Union Carbide leading to a ‘Gross Miscarriage of Justice.’ Justice Kaul stated that Adv. Karuna Nandy’s arguments concerned rules of evidence, and therefore fell outside the scope of the Curative Petition.

Sr. Adv. Sanjay Parikh, representing victims of the tragedy, argued that the Court actively participated in deciding the quantum of the 1989 settlement. Therefore they also had the power to enhance this amount. Justice Kaul immediately clarified that the SC simply acted as a mediator to the settlement. They were not a ‘third party’ in the case. He said the SC could not have forced anyone to accept the terms.Mr. Parikh responded that the SC has consistently highlighted the ‘justness’ of the settlement. If new facts emerged, the Court could reconsider the settlement.

Mr. Parikh pointed out that toxic waste in the area had not been disposed of yet, and had contaminated the groundwater in the affected area. Justice Kaul asked why the Union had not done anything about this in 40 years since the tragedy. Sr. Adv. Harish Salve, representing Union Carbide, appeared next and explained the toxic waste situation. The Madhya Pradesh government took possession of the land in 1989. They then demanded that Union Carbide should pay for the waste disposal, at the MP High Court.

Mr. Salve stated that in the 1991 case, the Union supported the petitioners’ claims to set aside the settlement and restart the proceedings. Further, the Union, in a series of affidavits between 1995 & 2011, opposed every attempt to suggest that the settlement was inadequate.