11 Oct 2022 8:33 AM GMT
The Attorney-General for India, R. Venkataramani on Tuesday informed a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that the Central Government was "keen" to pursue the curative petition filed against Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemicals) seeking additional compensation to the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. In 2010, the Government of India had filed a curative petition praying...
The Attorney-General for India, R. Venkataramani on Tuesday informed a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that the Central Government was "keen" to pursue the curative petition filed against Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemicals) seeking additional compensation to the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy.
In 2010, the Government of India had filed a curative petition praying for, inter alia, Rs 7,844 crores in excess of the settlement amount already disbursed by Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemicals), contending that the settlement was based on incorrect assumptions about the quantum of deaths, injuries, and losses. Twelve years after this issue was agitated, the apex court is set to make a final pronouncement and give, as the presiding judge Justice SK Kaul pithily put it, "quietus to this matter".
The five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court also comprises Justices Sanjiv Khanna, A.S. Oka, Vikram Nath and J.K. Maheshwari. On the previous hearing date (September 20), the bench had asked the Centre if it was intending to pursue the curative petition.
The Attorney-General todayinformed the Bench of the willingness of the Central Government to press the petition and requested to be granted some time for preparation –
"I wish to convey that the Government is very keen to pursue this matter. I have applied my mind to the review aspect and the various other challenges in reopening this matter. But having regard to the concern of the Government that we cannot abandon the victims…because the tragedy is unfolding every day. I am sure we will be able to assist the Court with this very challenging case where more than one aspect of the matter may have to be unravelled. I have looked into examples elsewhere, both in terms of opening settlements…We have considerable literature on where the courts have gone beyond the settlement arena. I will place all that before the Court when it assembles again."
According to the Central Government, the earlier settlement had not taken into account the subsequent environmental degradation. The settlement was also based on the earlier figure of 3,000 deaths and 70,000 cases of injury, when as many as 5,295 people had lost their lives and 5,27,894 sustained grave injuries. A massive public outrage had come on the heels of the controversial settlement brokered between the Union of India, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), and Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). In response, the Central Government had filed the present curative petition. However, this petition essentially lay dormant for more than a decade. The Dow Chemical Company (TDCC), of which UCC is a wholly-owned subsidiary, has accused the Union of attempting to renege on the settlement agreement and violating the rule of law.
On the other hand, the victims and their families, and non-governmental organisations representing them, have long maintained that the compensation paid by the delinquent companies was not commensurate with the harm caused by them. Advocate Karuna Nundy, appearing on behalf of the claimants, even accused the private corporation of "playing fraud on the Court". Nundy referred to an internal document, which she claimed, had details about how methyl isocyanate, the gas released from the pesticide plant in Bhopal, would lead to permanent injuries. Nundy claimed that despite the respondents possessing such knowledge, 98% of the claimants received damages only for temporary injuries. She said –
"The victims have to be given an opportunity to be heard before this Court comes to a conclusion. Now that the Attorney-General has made such a heartening statement, we are hopeful that we will be given due regard."
The counsel for the respondents, among whom were Senior Advocates Sidharth Luthra and Ravindra Shrivastav, strenuously argued, inter alia, that the curative petition was not maintainable and that the non-governmental organisations had no locus standi to be impleaded as parties.
Justice Kaul, after hearing the submissions made by the Attorney-General and the other counsel, orally pronounced –
"Learned Attorney-General has taken a stand before us that the Government would like to press this curative petition. A number of non-governmental organisations seek to be added as parties before us. The respondents say that the very maintainability of the curative petition will have to be examined as it comes 19 years after this judgement was passed and without going through the process of a review application. The persons who filed the review applications from which orders were passed have not filed a curative petition. In the conspectus of the aforesaid, we issue the following directions:
1. The Government would represent the claims of the persons who have suffered. A compilation would be required to be prepared by the office of the Attorney-General and the respondents, which will be the compilation alone to be referred to by us in the proceeding.
2. Insofar as the applicant associations are concerned, we do not give any liberty to file any pleadings. But in the relevant stage, we will see to what extent assistance can be given by the counsels and we do not foreclose the right to be heard by us at our discretion.
3. The joint compilation will be prepared within eight weeks as prayed for. The parties will also file a brief synopsis.
4. Some documents may be permitted to be filed on record limited to the updated positions at the ground level"
The matter will be taken up for hearing again on January 10, 2023. One day will be reserved for "housekeeping" in order to ensure that "everything is in order", Justice Kaul said.
Union of India & Ors. v. M/s. Union Carbide Corporation & Ors. [Curative Petition (C) No. 345-347/2010]
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