Bhopal gas tragedy: Supreme Court to hear Union Government’s plea on additional damages to the victims

Multiple organisations representing survivors of the tragedy expressed cautious satisfaction with the Union Government’s commitment to pursue the curative petition.


ON Tuesday, the Supreme Court constitution bench of Justices S.K Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, A.S Oka, Vikram Nath and J.K. Maheshwari agreed to hear a curative petition of the Union Government seeking additional damages for the Bhopal Gas tragedy from the Union Carbide Corporation (now owned by Dow Chemicals) and Union Carbide India Limited (‘UCIL’).

In the matter of Union of India & Ors versus Union Carbide Corporation & Ors., the Union Government, represented by newly-appointed Attorney General R Venkataramani, expressed that it is very keen to pursue this matter.

During the previous hearing on September 20, the court had asked the Union Government to clarify whether it wants to pursue the matter as the initial stand of the government was not clear. The Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, had asked for some time to get instructions on the same.

In 2010, the Union Government filed a curative petition against the 1989 settlement of 470 million dollars. The curative petition sought additional funds of Rs. 7,844 crore rupees over the amount already paid.

In today’s proceedings, various non-governmental organisations (‘NGOs’), including Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, representing victims of the tragedy, requested the court to hear their concerns.

However, the respondents, represented by senior advocates Sidharth Luthra and Ravindra Shrivastav, told the bench that their impleadment applications had not been allowed as per a 2011 order, and that they were not impleaded as parties in the 2010 curative petition.

The respondents relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Charan Lal Sahu versus Union of India & Ors (1989) and submitted that the exclusive right to claim damages only rests with the Union Government.

In Charan Lal, the validity of the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 was upheld.

At this juncture, the bench sought clarification whether these organisations are a party to the curative petition. The bench said, “We will not permit. We are not averse to hearing a point of view. But we will not allow parties to intervene like this.”

If the Union Government wants to go ahead and open the matter, we cannot say anything, the respondents told the five-judge bench.

Further, the respondents also argued that the Constitution bench must first decide the Union Government’s curative petition on maintainability. Subsequently, the court would also have to decide whether the Union Government can skip the review petition against the 1989 settlement and directly file a curative petition.

The counsels also highlighted that there has been a delay of 19 years since the review, and it was only in 2010 that the Union Government filed a curative petition.

The constitution bench passed directions for the Union Government to prepare a joint compilation to represent the concerns of all victims. It recognised that the curative petition had not been filed by the NGOs representing the victims. Whereas, the Union Government had filed a curative petition without filing a review, that too after 19 years.

The bench, however, did not grant the liberty to the applicant NGOs to file pleadings. But it did not foreclose their right to be heard at its discretion, and giving it assistance at a relevant stage of the proceedings.

The bench instructed that the joint compilation has to be prepared within eight weeks that will alone be referred to by the bench to pursue the matter. It also directed to file a brief synopsis.

In furtherance of today’s directions, the leaders of five organisations representing survivors – Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogi Sangarsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information & Action, and Children Against Dow-Carbide – expressed satisfaction at the Union Government’s commitment to pursue the petition.

The Bhopal Group for Information & Action, one of the NGOs that was represented by Advocate Karuna Nundy before the court today, expressed hope that the Union Government would expose UCC’s fraud of presenting misleading figures of death and injuries caused in the disaster.

Today, Nundy argued before the bench that UCC had suppressed internal documents that showed that the exposure to the leaked gas was known to cause permanent damages, and that the Union Government agreed on a paltry settlement. The UCC is a proclaimed absconder from Indian criminal courts, Nundy told the court.

However, the leader of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, in a press statement, has said that the additional damages claimed by the Union Government will not benefit the survivors unless the figures of death and extent of injury are corrected immediately.

Nousheen Khan of Children Against Dow-Carbide, said “Every day we see the health damage done to an entire generation born after the disaster, and we hope the government will recognise our damaged children to be victims of this criminal corporation when they present their claims at the next hearing.

The next hearing of the matter will be held on January 10, 2023.