The Madhya Pradesh government’s refusal to be party to a curative petition filed by the Centre in Supreme Court seeking additional compensation for the Bhopal gas disaster victims may weaken the case, NGOs have said.
The Centre is seeking Rs 7,786 crore more from Union Carbide — or its successor company Dow Chemical – for victims of the December, 1984 industrial disaster.
In 1984, the then Congress government at the Centre had settled for a Rs 715-crore compensation from the Union Carbide for approximately 3,000 deaths.
NGOs representing gas victims contend that welfare courts have already compensated 15,345 persons for death in the disaster and another 5,74,000 persons for injuries in varying degrees.
However, the state government argues that the welfare commissioner, appointed by the Supreme Court, had categorised only 5,295 deaths due to exposure to the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas.
The NGOs’ apprehension stems from the fact that a criminal curative petition filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – seeking enhanced charges against the accused – was earlier rejected by the apex court, holding prosecuting agency in the case CBI responsible for the botch-up.
The CBI had filed charges against 9 officials of Union Carbide and three Carbide companies , including its then chairman Warren Anderson who passed away recently.
After seven accused were let off with light sentences by a Bhopal court in 2010, leading to outpouring of public anger, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan government had promised to seek more compensation for the victims and harsher punishment to the accused.
Abdul Jabbar, convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangsthan, said that the chief minister was being “misguided” on the issue by his advisors.
“Chief minister appears to have been advised that the accord was signed by the government of India and it won’t be wise to intervene in an issue where Central government is involved,” he said.
However, a senior officer in the gas relief and rehabilitation department, on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the state government was not willing to get into the issue because it was not in its jurisdiction.
“What the NGOs are saying is correct but our stand is clear. Compensation was decided through a judicial process. Though 15,345 people were compensated for death but only 5,295 deaths were categorised as death due to exposure to MIC,” the official said.
The remaining deaths were categorised under different heads like permanently disabled, partially impaired and general gas victims.
However, Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group of Information and Action, who was one of the protestors who sat on a hunger strike in Delhi recently demanding “correction” in the figures of death and injuries, termed the argument as “absurd”.
“The welfare commissioner can’t stop the state government from going to court and submit that the figures given earlier were grossly incorrect and they wished to correct it on the basis of medical data. The figures were fudged earlier to benefit the corporation and the collusion continues”, she said.
Rachna, however, said that Union minister for fertilisers and chemicals Ananth Kumar has agreed to re-examine the issue in the light of medical data available.