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Bhopal gas tragedy: SC verdict on centre's curative plea for extra compensation today

The centre has sought an extra Rs 7,844 crore above the earlier settlement of $470 mn

Bhopal Gas tragedy Representation. Survivors of Bhopal Gas disaster raise slogans during a demonstration on its 38th anniversary, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, on Saturday | PTI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will pronounce the verdict on the Centre's plea seeking additional compensation from the Union Carbide Corporation's (UCC) successor firms to provide higher compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

In the curative plea, the government has 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. 

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.

The verdict will be pronounced by a five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul. The bench, also comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice Abhay S Oka, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J K Maheshwar, had on January 12 reserved its verdict on the Centre's curative plea.

The centre has also requested the government re-examine 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." 

The government contends that the enormity of the actual damage could not be assessed properly at the time of the settlement in 1989.

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.

However, the Supreme Court had, during the hearing, told the Centre that it cannot act like a "knight in shining armour" and decide the curative plea seeking additional funds from UCC as a civil suit, and asked the government to "dip into its own pocket" to provide enhanced compensation.

A curative petition is the last resort for a plaintiff after an adverse judgement has been delivered and the plea for its review is rejected. The Centre had not filed a review petition for rescinding the settlement which it now wants to be enhanced.

On January 10, the top court questioned the Centre for pursuing its curative plea seeking additional funds from UCC, saying the government cannot reopen a settlement that was reached with the company after over 30 years.

(With inputs from PTI) 


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