It has sought enhanced compensation for gas victims

The Supreme Court will hear in open court on February 28 the curative petition filed by the Union government seeking enhancement of compensation of $470 million for Bhopal gas victims. The petition said the compensation, determined by the Supreme Court in 1989, was arrived at on the basis of assumptions of truth unrelated to realities.

A five-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Altamas Kabir, R.V. Raveendran, B. Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam, after a brief discussion in the CJI's Chamber, decided to post the matter for hearing in open court.

Normally curative petitions are decided in the chamber and depending on the importance and merit of the matter posted for regular hearing. A brief order said these petitions be placed in the court along with the curative petition in criminal appeal (CBI Vs. Keshub Mahindra) on February 28 at 2 p.m. The Centre, in its second curative petition (the first petition has sought enhancement of punishment), has cited as respondents the Union Carbide Corporation, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals Co., U.S.; Dow Chemicals; McLeod Russel India, Kolkata; and Eveready Industries, Kolkata.

It has sought a review of the May 4, 1989 and October 3, 1991 orders, contending that the 1989 settlement was seriously impaired. An additional compensation of Rs.675.96 crore under various categories had become due and payable in 1989. “Since the said amount is being claimed in 2010 [as on the date of the petition], several aspects such as devaluation of the rupee, interest rate, purchasing power parity and the inflation index have to be factored in while computing the claim amount.” So the total would come to Rs. 5,786 crore.

In addition, Rs.1,743.15 crore for relief and rehabilitation, which Madhya Pradesh undertook due to the tort by the Union Carbide India Limited and the Union Carbide Corporation and other respondents, had to be reimbursed on the ‘polluter pays' principle. The petition also claimed Rs.315.7 crore towards measures for remedying environmental degradation caused by the respondents. The Centre said that after the trial court in Bhopal pronounced its verdict in the criminal case against the accused on June 7, 2010, awarding two-year imprisonment, there was widespread public outcry and concern throughout the country. This led to a comprehensive reconsideration and review at the highest level by the Union of India of all issues of the gas tragedy and its aftermath.

On compensation, a thorough review of all issues was conducted. Various extremely hazardous wastes were lying on and around the factory premises. But the impugned judgments and orders “do not take into account the impact of the disaster on the environment” and as “the respondents are liable to pay the costs on account of environmental degradation it is imperative that the settlement figure be reworked keeping in mind the true ground realities i.e. the actual number of fatalities and injuries.”

The petition said: “The total number of death cases resulting from the tragedy is 5,295, whereas the impugned order proceeds on the basis that there were only about 3,000 deaths. Similarly, the number of cases of minor injuries is 5,27,894, whereas the impugned order proceeded on the basis that there were only 50,000 such cases.” The Centre said: “The RBI has reckoned that if the amount was invested at monthly, half yearly or yearly LIBOR [London Interbank Offered Rate], then the investment at yearly LIBOR would yield the highest return. Accordingly, the amount of additional compensation to be claimed should be $1241.38 million or Rs.5,786.07 crore at present value.” It sought a direction in this regard.