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Change in Constitution Bench hearing petition on higher compensation to Bhopal gas victims

File photo of a poster bearing the name of the Union Carbide company during a march by Bhopal Gas disaster victims to commemorate the 30th anniversary in Bhopal on December 3, 2014. The government, through a curative petition, is seeking compensation, over and above the $470 million already paid by Union Carbide.

File photo of a poster bearing the name of the Union Carbide company during a march by Bhopal Gas disaster victims to commemorate the 30th anniversary in Bhopal on December 3, 2014. The government, through a curative petition, is seeking compensation, over and above the $470 million already paid by Union Carbide.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Justice Ravindra Bhat, who has withdrawn from the case, will be replaced.

Supreme Court judge, Justice Arun Mishra, on January 29 informed lawyers that a curative petition filed by the government for enhanced compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims will be listed before a different combination of judges on February 11.

The change on the five-judge Constitution Bench follows a decision by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat to withdraw from hearing the case. Justice Bhat had appeared for the government in the case in the past. A new judge would now replace Justice Bhat on the Bench.

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. The other judges on the Bench, excluding Justice Bhat, are Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran and M.R. Shah.

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

Govt.’s contention

The government had contended that the compensation, determined in 1989, was arrived on the basis of 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.; McLeod Russel India, Kolkata, and Eveready Industries, Kolkata.

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 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.

‘Colossal failure’

The court has already dismissed a curative petition filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (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. Mr. Anderson died in 2014.

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 had wanted the Supreme Court to “restore” the criminal charge of Section 304 Part II Indian Pendal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) against the accused persons. It had 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 18, 2020 9:43:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/change-in-constitution-bench-hearing-petition-on-higher-compensation-to-bhopal-gas-victims/article30684790.ece

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