Bhopal gas tragedy: Justice Ravindra Bhat recuses from SC’s 5-judge bench

AFTER recusal of the Justice S Ravindra Bhat from hearing the case, the Supreme Court today adjourned the hearing of a curative petition filed by the Central Government in 2010 for direction to the Union Carbide Corporation to pay enhanced compensation of over Rs 7,400 crore to the victims in the Bhopal gas tragedy

Justice Bhat was a counsel for the Indian government in settling the amount for compensation in 1989. While rescuing himself, he said, “I had appeared for the Union of India in the matter when Union had sought review”.

The plea, which was filed by the central government in December 2010, was listed before a five-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M R Shah and S Ravindra Bhat.

Before adjourning the hearing, the presiding judge Justice Misra said that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bodbe would take a decision on the composition of the bench that would hear the matter.


The plea


The compensation for the damages to the victims was paid by the central government, however, it wants Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) to be held liable to give compensation to the victims. Hence, this curative petition was filed.

In its plea, the central government seeks re-consideration of the apex court judgment of 1989 in which the court ordered Union Carbide to pay a compensation of Rs 750 crore and to take a call on the additional compensation of Rs 7,413 crores to the victims.

The curative petition sought revised compensation for the death of 5,295 people and injury to 5,27,894 people.

The petition stated that the amount of compensation then decided by the apex court in the 1989 judgement was based on a miscalculation of the number of deaths, injuries and losses, and disregard to environmental damages.

The plea also seeks stricter punishment for the convicts.


Petition to list the plea


In November 2018, a petition was filed by the central government before the apex court to list the curative petition for early hearing.

It contended that the “matter is extremely important involving public interest” and stated that “any further delay in hearing the matter will not be public interest and will cause irreparable loss and damage”.


1989 judgement


On February 14, 1989, the apex court settled the civil claims against Union Carbide and directed to pay compensation of Rs 750 crore. The court directed to disburse the amount to the victims and their survivors.

In June 2010, a Bhopal court convicted seven executives of the Union Carbide for criminal negligence and sentence each of them to two years in jail and fined 1,00,000.


In the United States courts


In 1999, a group of victims of the tragedy filed a suit against Union Carbide in United States federal court seeking compensation for the 1984 incident and for environmental contamination at and around Bhopal. The United States court dismissed the plea as it found that these claims were barred by the 1989 Union Carbide settlement in India.

The petitioners then appealed before the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York which, on July 30, 2014, ruled that Union Carbide could not be sued for the on-going contamination from the plant.

Claiming that there are new pieces of evidence that show Union Carbide’s involvement, the petitioners again moved to the United States court which refused to proceed the lawsuit. This decision of the lower court was later upheld by the United States Court of Appeal in August 2016.


Bhopal gas tragedy


On the intervening night of the 2-3 December 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked forty tons of the poisonous gas methyl isocyanate into the community surrounding the plant.

As per an International Labour Organization report, the Bhopal gas tragedy is among the world’s major accidents since 1919 which affected more than 6,00,000 workers and their descendants.

As per the official report of the Government of India, 5,295 people had died in the tragedy and over 5 lakh people got afflicted with deadly diseases.

Even after 35 years of the tragedy, thousands of victims are still waiting for adequate compensation and medical treatment for ailments caused by the toxic gas.

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