Bhopal gas tragedy: Apex Court says it’s bound by maryada of jurisdiction, Centre can’t reopen settlement after 30 yrs
The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Government of India for pursuing its curative plea (final legal step in India) seeking an additional Rs.7,844 crore from successor firms of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) for giving compensation to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, saying the court is bound by ‘maryada‘ (limit) of jurisdiction and the government cannot reopen a settlement arrived at with the company after over 30 years.
Observing that populism cannot be a basis for judicial review, the apex court said it does not look good in a globalized world that even if you have settled something with the Government of India it can be reopened at a later stage. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who headed the five-judge Constitution bench, said, “courts are not averse to extending the envelope to exercise jurisdiction. But it all depends on the jurisdiction you are dealing with.
The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjeev Khanna, Abhay S Oka, Vikram Nath, and J K Maheshwari, told Attorney General (AG) R Venkataramani, showed its clear disinclination about reopening the contentious issue. “The court is not going to step into something which is not permissible and open a pandora box. There was a settlement that was arrived at between the parties and the court approved it. Now in curative jurisdiction, we cannot reopen that settlement. Our decision in one case will have wide ramifications. You need to understand to what extent curative jurisdiction can be invoked,” the bench said.
The AG said the fiduciary relationship concept has grown over a period of time and has been expanded by courts. “What is worrying, in this case, is that a lot of issues and questions have remained unanswered. By this curative petition, our endeavour is to elicit such answers. I think for all practical purposes, this court will proceed to assume the culmination of the welfare commissioner’s proceedings to be correct and valid for having a second look at the whole settlement,” he said.
Venkataramani clarified he is not seeking to challenge the settlement already arrived at but wants more compensation for the victims of the tragedy. The bench said the government cannot do this by invoking the curative jurisdiction of the court and, if it wants to enhance the compensation, then it could avail the remedy of the suit.
Justice Khanna told the AG that the incident happened in 1984 and the settlement was arrived at in 1989, almost five years down the line. He wondered whether the court should conclude that the government and all its organizations were not aware of the number of people with minor injuries for whom Rs.1,000 crore is being sought now. The AG Venkataramani said even today he had an interaction with ICMR scientists and there are several unanswered questions about the medical evaluation of certain categories of ailments and disabilities.
Justice Khanna said, “There cannot be a scenario where you say that 50 years down the line we have come across some more developments, so open it up. On that date did you make a prudent decision?”
“What is troubling us is that in a curative petition, you want some amount which you perceive and you want to burden them (UCC) with that amount without actually challenging the earlier settlement,” Justice Kaul said.
The AG said between 1992 and 2004, Rs.1,549 crore was disbursed by the Reserve Bank of India and around Rs.1,517 crore was paid after 2004 as compensation. Justice Kaul said the Centre had submitted earlier that all the claimants have been paid then why is Rs.50 crore still lying with the RBI?
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the US-based UCC, said the settlement which was arrived at had no reopener clause in it. The UCC, now owned by Dow Chemicals, gave a compensation of USD 470 million (Rs.715 crore at the time of settlement in 1989) after the toxic methyl isocyanate gas leak from the Union Carbide factory on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984 killed over 3,000 people and affected 1.02 lakh more.
The Government of India had filed the curative petition in the apex court in December 2010 for enhanced compensation. On June 7, 2010, a Bhopal court sentenced seven executives of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) to two years imprisonment. Union Carbide’s India partner was Mahindra Group and Mahindra Group’s then Chairman Kesub Mahindra was also convicted for two years.
The then UCC chairman Warren Anderson was the prime accused in the case but did not appear for the trial. On February 1, 1992, the Bhopal CJM court declared him an absconder. The courts in Bhopal had issued non-bailable warrants against Anderson twice in 1992 and 2009 before his death in September 2014.
 Keshub Mahindra, 7 others convicted in Bhopal gas case – Jun 07, 2010, ET
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Supreme Court denied justice to the Bhopal Gas Victims. Supreme Court then got sold to Khangress to close the case forever. Indian life’s is cheap.