Govt seeks Rs 7,700 crore for Bhopal gas victims

On the 26th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, Centre filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking enhancement of compensation for the victims.

Last Updated: Dec 04, 2010, 09:42 AM IST

New Delhi: Government on Friday moved the
Supreme Court seeking enhancment of compensation from Rs 750
crore to Rs 7,700 crore for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas
tragedy in which more than 5000 people were killed due to
leakage of poisonous gas from the Union Carbide factory.

The filing of curative petition coincided with the
26th anniversary of tragedy in which the Ministry of Chemicals
and Fertilizers has sought re-examination of the apex court`s
February 14, 1989 judgement by which the compensation was
fixed at 470 million dollars (Rs 750 crore) and subsequent
orders of February 15 and May 4 determining the mode of
payment and settlement.

The apex court had also dismissed the petition to
review its judgements and orders on October 3, 1991.
The petition filed by the centre in the capacity of
legal guardian of the victims of the world`s largest
industrial disaster has sought payment of additional damages
from Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), Dow Chemicals Company
(which owns UCC since 2001), Mcleod Russel India having 50.9
per cent share-holding of UCIL and UCIL, which is currently
known as Eveready Industries Ltd.

The curative petition settled by Attorney General G E
Vahanvati has contended that the figure of 470 million dollar
was arrived by the apex court on "incorrect and wrong
assumption of facts and data in the impugned judgments".

The Centre has submitted that the apex court in its
1989 judgment had observed that the settlement was based on
certain `assumptions of truth` and if the said assumptions are
unrelated to `realities`, then the `element of justness` of
the settlement would seriously be impaired and liberty was
given to approach the court.

Government termed the Bhopal gas tragedy as one of the
"rarest of rare cases" and asked the apex court to exercise
its jurisdiction to address the error in its judgements on the
issue "in public interest" apparent on the face of the record.

It said the companies are responsible for the disaster
and as such "the tax payers` money cannot be utilized for the
purposes of meeting the liability of the companies which are
tort feasors (wrong doers)".

The Centre maintained that UCC and its subsidiary
named in its petition are jointly and severally liable for
payment of the claims as "it has emerged that basic underlying
assumptions of fact and data in the impugned judgments and
orders are incorrect, thereby vitiating the very foundation on
which the compensation was awarded".

"As a result, the stand hitherto taken and the various
affidavits filed regarding the finality of the impugned
judgments and orders of this Court cannot be said to be
correct and legal" the curative petition prepared by advocate
Devdutt Kamat said.

The Centre contended that in the comprehensive review
that was conducted by it in June, 2010, it has emerged that
the figures that formed the basis of the compensation awarded
by this court are "completely incorrect".

It said the compensation in 1989 was decided on the basis
of assessment that there were 3000 deaths, 20,000 people with
temporary injury and 50,000 with minor injury.
However, the figure as estimated now stands as 5,295
deaths, 35,000 people with temporary injury and 5.27 lakh with
minor injury, the petition said.

"In these circumstances, the petitioner is approaching
this court for remedying the manifest injustice that has
resulted from the incorrect assumptions of fact in the
impugned orders pursuant to the liberty granted by this
court," the Centre said in its petition.

Government said filing of the curative petition was an
attempt by it "to cure gross miscarriage of justice and
perpetration of irremediable injustice being suffered by the
victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy".

"It is submitted that the settlement compensation
amount determined by this court was based on certain factual
assumptions which have been found to be completely incorrect
and far removed from reality. This has vitiated the very
basis of the compensation," it said.

It is submitted that the judgments and orders also do
not take into account the impact of the disaster on the
environment and that the respondents are liable to pay the
costs on account of environmental degradation.

The petition said it was claiming compensation on
behalf of the victims as Rs 1743.15 crore was incurred by it
on account of actual expenditure incurred by the state towards
relief and rehabilition measures.

The Centre said it was claiming Rs 315.7 crore on account
of remedial measures to be undertaken for environmental
degradation on the basis of "polluter pays priciple."

The petition said the grievances raised has to be
addressed by the court as the "justness" and the
"reasonableness" of the compensation amount of 470 million
dollars is in serious jeopardy on account of factual
inaccuracies.

"If death cases alone have been found to be almost double
than what was assumed in the impugned order and minor injury
cases have been found to be more than 10 times of the original
assumed figure in the impugned order, the settlement of
compensation amount cannot be considered to be reasonable," it
said.

It is submitted that the companies which were wrong-
doers cannot escape liability to pay reasonable compensation
to all the victims of the tragedy.

"It is submitted that the they cannot shirk away from
making good the additional compensation payable to the
additional victims whose facts and figures were not reckoned
by this court when the settlement was recorded in 1989," the
Centre said.

It said the companies are also liable under the
doctrine of strict liability in law to compensate these
additional victims for the loss caused to them.

The errors which were apparent on the face of record
and which led the court to arrive at the figure of 470 million
dollar as compensation in 1989 was based on the fact that
there were 3000 deaths for which the compensation was between
the range of Rs one lakh to three lakh.

However, the Centre said the the figure of fatalities
as estimated by this court are completely incorrect.

"The figures of death are 15,295 cases, an increase of
almost 76.5% more than the original figures," it said.

In respect of temporary disability cases, the apex
court allocated a sum of Rs 100 crore and assumed that the
figure of temporary disability was 20,000 cases which were to
be paid, on an average, a sum of Rs 50,000 in each case.

However, the actual number of temporary disability cases
is 35,455 and an additional amount of Rs 77.27 crore is
required to cover the additional 15,455 cases, the petition
said.

An allocation of Rs 100 crore was made for minor
injury cases for 50,000 people. However, the minor injury
claims have risen to 5,27,894 persons. Thus, an additional
amount of Rs 955.79 crore is required over and above the Rs
100 crore originally envisaged, the Centre maintained.

PTI