Supreme Court adjourns hearing of curative plea in Bhopal gas case

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

A five-judge Constitution Bench on Tuesday adjourned the hearing of a curative petition filed by the government for enhanced compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims after one of the judges withdrew from the case.

Justice S. Ravindra Bhat recused from the case as he had appeared for the government in the case in the past.

The government is seeking compensation, over and above the $470 million already paid by Union Carbide.

The Constitution Bench is led by Justice Arun Mishra and the other judges include Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M.R. Shah and Justice Bhat. Following Justice Bhat’s recusal, Justice Mishra said the CJI would take a decision on the future course to be taken. “We are awaiting the CJI’s orders,” Justice Mishra addressed the assembled lawyers.

In January last year, a Bench led by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had agreed to examine the petition.

The government had contended that the compensation, determined in 1989, was arrived at on assumptions of truth unrelated to realities.

A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had in 2011 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.

Additional funds

The Centre had sought a re-look of the May 4, 1989 and subsequent October 3, 1991 orders of the Supreme Court, contending that the 1989 settlement was seriously impaired.

The government has sought additional funds of over ₹7,400 crore from the pesticide company.

The tragedy unfolded in Bhopal (in the State of Madhya Pradesh) on the night intervening night of December 2-3,1984 when the highly dangerous and toxic gas, Methyl Isocynate (MIC), escaped from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). It resulted in the death of 5,295 human beings, injuries to almost 5,68,292 persons besides loss of livestock and loss of property of almost 5,478 persons.

The court has already dismissed a curative petition filed by the CBI in 2010 for enhancement of punishment.

The agency had filed the curative petition to correct the Supreme Court’s “colossal failure of justice” in 1996 when it chose to dismiss the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy as a result of an act of negligence, and not culpable homicide, by former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and his Indian employees. Anderson died in 2014.

Plea dismissed

Dismissing the curative plea in 2011, the court had held that “no satisfactory explanation has been given to file such curative petitions after about 14 years from the 1996 judgment.”

The CBI wanted the Supreme Court to “restore” the criminal charge of Section 304 Part II IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) against the accused. It approached the Supreme Court facing public outcry over a Bhopal court order that sentenced Union Carbide executives to two years’ imprisonment. Those convicted included former Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 1:20:58 AM |

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