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Bhopal gas tragedy: SC dismisses Centre's plea seeking additional compensation

The court said the settlement can be set aside only on the ground of fraud

Bhopal Gas Representation. Survivors of Bhopal Gas disaster raise slogans during a demonstration | PTI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the curative petition filed by Centre seeking additional compensation from the Union Carbide Corporation's (UCC) successor firms for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. 

In the curative plea, the government had sought an extra Rs 7,844 crore over and above the earlier settlement amount of USD 470 million (Rs 715 crore at the time of settlement in 1989) from UCC, now owned by Dow Chemicals.  

A bench comprising Justice S.K. Kaul, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice A.S. Oka, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J.K. Maheshwari noted that the settlement can be set aside only on the ground of fraud, but no ground of fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India, reported Live Law.

The court added that a sum of Rs 50 crores lying with RBI can be utilised by the Union Government to satisfy pending claims if any. The court noted that the responsibility was on the Indian government to make good the deficiency in the compensation, but it had failed to take out insurance policies as directed by the Supreme Court. "This is gross negligence on the part of Union and in breach of the judgment of this Court. The Union cannot be negligent on this aspect and seek prayer from this Court to fix responsibility on the UCC.

"Either a settlement is valid, or it has to be vitiated on the ground of fraud. No such fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India", the bench noted.

The court noted that the government's stance was that the Commissioner had adjudicated all claims under the law. It was also admitted in the proceedings which ended in 2004 that the compensations were adequate. 

The bench also noted that it was the case of UCC that the State and Union failed to detoxify the site leading to aggravation of problems, the court said, adding that this cannot be a basis to seek additional compensation.

The tragedy that happened in 1984 when deadly gas leaked from the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984, killed over 3,000 people and caused huge environmental damage.

In the petition, the centre has also requested a re-examination of the court's February 14, 1989 judgment which fixed the compensation at USD 470 million. According to the government, the settlement was seriously impaired and the compensation determined in 1989 was arrived on the "basis of assumptions of truth unrelated to realities." 

However, during the hearing on January 12, successor firms of the UCCC told the apex court that the depreciation of the rupee since 1989 cannot be a ground to now seek a "top-up" of compensation. It argued that the Government of India never suggested at the time of the settlement that it was inadequate.

"There are series and series of affidavits starting from 1995 and ending as late as 2011, where the Union of India has opposed every single attempt to suggest that the settlement (of 1989) is inadequate. Affidavits upon affidavits were filed," senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the UCC successor firms had submitted. Salve argued that the settlement became inadequate because the rupee depreciated.

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