$470 m was arrived at on assumptions unrelated to realities: Centre

The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine the Centre's plea for enhancement of the compensation of $470 million already paid to victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

A Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Altamas Kabir, R.V. Raveendran, B. Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam issued notice to the respondents after Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati submitted that the compensation, determined in 1989, was arrived at on assumptions of truth unrelated to realities.

The Bench issued notice to 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.

The Centre sought a review of the May 4, 1989 and October 3, 1991 orders of the Supreme Court, 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), 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. 1743.15 crore for relief and rehabilitation, which Madhya Pradesh undertook due to tort on the part of the Union Carbide India Limited and the Union Carbide Corporation and other respondents, had to be reimbursed on the ‘polluter pays' principle. The Centre's petition also claimed Rs. 315.7 crore towards remedying environmental degradation caused by the respondents.

The court had in August last issued notice on another curative petition, filed by the Centre, asking why the charge under Section 304 B (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code should be not added against the accused in the criminal appeal pending in the Madhya Pradesh High court against the June 2010 trial court's verdict, which sentenced them to two-year imprisonment.

Notices were issued to the former Union Carbide India chairman, Keshub Mahindra; UCIL managing director Vijay Gokhale; the then vice-president, Kishore Kamdar; the then works manager, J.N. Mukund; the then production manager, S.P. Choudhary; the then plant superintendent, K.V. Shetty and the then production assistant, S.I. Quereshi.

Contending that failure of justice had affected not only the victims but also society and the nation as a whole, the CBI/Centre wanted this charge (Section 304 B of the IPC) restored against Keshub Mahindra and others, including Union Carbide India, who were let off by the Bhopal trial court with a minor punishment of two years for an offence under Section 304 A (negligence).

Making it clear that this curative petition would be heard on a day-to-day basis, the CJI, after hearing senior counsel Harish Salve and others, granted the parties three weeks to file their replies and complete the pleadings.

The matter is listed for hearing on April 13.

The Bench also issued notice on the Centre's plea for transfer of the writ petition before the High Court on adjudication of the liabilities of Dow Chemicals, UCCL and Eveready Industries India for environmental degradation caused by gas leakage from the UCIL plant in December 1984, in which over 2,000 were killed and thousands maimed.