Bhopal gas tragedy: SC dismisses Centre’s plea for additional compensation from Union Carbide

Government should use the Rs 50 crore lying with the Reserve Bank of India to settle further claims, SC ordered

By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Tuesday 14 March 2023
Photo: Rachna Dhingra / Twitter_

The Supreme Court of India March 14, 2023 dismissed the Centre’s curative petition seeking more compensation from the Union Carbide Company (UCC) for the victims of the gas tragedy that struck Bhopal in 1984.

In 2010, the Union government of India filed the pleas in SC asking UCC, which is currently owned by Dow Inc, for Rs 7,844 crore as additional compensation. 

But the SC in the latest judgement said this claim was unnecessary and rebuked the Centre for bringing up the matter two decades after settlement. 

The Constitution bench comprising justices SK Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, AS Oka, Vikram Nath and JK Maheshwari said the amount of settlement was already in surplus of the actual requirement, referring to the apex court’s July 19, 2004 ruling. 

They added: 

A sum of Rs 50 crore lying with the Reserve Bank of India shall be used by the Union of India to satisfy pending claims if any in accordance with the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act, 1985, and the scheme framed thereunder.

Toxic gas leak by the UCC pesticide manufacturing plant killed around 3,800 people immediately on the intervening night of 2-3 December, 1984. It also led at least 100,000 people to live with chronic illnesses.

In 1989, UCC paid a compensation amount of $470 million to the Government of India for the  victims. But the disbursement of the sum was caught in red tape and the process didn’t start before 2004 following the SC order. 

Read our entire coverage of the Bhopal gas tragedy here

It is crucial to attain closure in the matter of compensating the victims to avoid complications that would turn the situation in favour of UCC and against the claimants. 

The apex court also pulled up the Centre for negligence in plugging any deficiency and taking out the relevant insurance policy. “Surprisingly, we are informed that no such insurance policy was taken out,” the bench noted, adding that this is a breach of the directions made in the review judgement. 

“The Union cannot be negligent on this aspect and then seek a prayer from this court to fix such responsibility on the UCC,” the judgement read.

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