Centre not taking clear stand on curative plea in Bhopal tragedy aid case

The lack of a clear stand by the Centre before a Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul conveys a sea change in the government’s stance

September 25, 2022 09:50 pm | Updated September 26, 2022 12:36 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court has granted time till October 11 for the government’s law officers to get instructions from Centre on the case.

The Supreme Court has granted time till October 11 for the government’s law officers to get instructions from Centre on the case. | Photo Credit: File photo

The fate of the Bhopal gas tragedy case is perched precariously on the edge of a precipice in the Supreme Court.

On September 20, the government’s law officers sounded unsure if the Centre would want to pursue a curative plea to enhance the compensation awarded to victims. They sought time till October 11 to get “instructions”. The lack of a clear stand by the Union before a Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul conveys a sea change in the attitude of the government.

When the Union Government filed the curative petition in November 2010, it had clearly declared itself as “the parens patriae (protector) of the victims of the world's largest industrial disaster — the Bhopal gas tragedy”. The curative plea sought additional funds of over ₹7,400 crore over and above the $470 million already paid by Union Carbide.

Also Read | Bhopal gas tragedy | SC grants time till October 11 to get instructions from Centre on compensation

The tragedy in 1984 had resulted in the loss of 5,295 lives and injured over five lakh people.

The Centre had argued that the compensation fixed by the Supreme Court in orders passed between February 1989 and October 1991 was based on certain “assumptions of truth”. These assumptions, the curative petition had argued, were “unrelated to realities”. The court had in 2011 issued notice to Union Carbide, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals Co., U.S.

Further, the Parliament had cast the government in the role of the protector of the victims by enacting the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act of 1985. The government’s acceptance of this role was evident in its curative petition which said that the “Government of India, as parens patriae, exclusively represent the victims so that the interest of the victims of the disaster are fully protected and that the claims for compensation are pursued separately, effectively and equitably”.

Despite all this, the law officers said the case had come up for hearing all of a sudden on September 20 and they wanted time to hear from the government.

The court also seemed not too appreciative about the prolonged litigation regarding the tragedy. On September 20, it said that though the incident was “unfortunate” there could not be “perpetual uncertainty”. It even wondered whether the compensation could be changed time and again, citing developments that happened “five years, 10 years later”. It was responding to a submission by senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan and Bhopal Gas Peedith Sahayog Samiti, that the intensity of the tragedy had increased “fivefold” in the number of injuries and deaths over the years.

The court’s observations on September 20 do not gel with those earlier made in its orders in the Bhopal gas tragedy case. One of the orders cautioned the court and the parties to “not shut out any important material which would affect the justness of the settlement”.

The court in those orders had acknowledged that “like all other human institutions, this court is human and fallible”.

Both the Supreme Court and the government had agreed in its earlier orders that the Bhopal gas tragedy was “unparalleled in human history” and the relief and rehabilitation may have to necessarily undergo constant review and change. “As time goes by, more and different aspects of the tragedy unfold and therefore the need for alleviating the misery of the people has to be considered on a continuing basis,” a petition filed by the Union Government had said.

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