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SC to hear plea on Bhopal gas victims in April

Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which has merged with DuPont to create Dow DuPont. By April 1, Dow DuPont plans to break up into three companies in a plan that will see the end of Union Carbide as an entity.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2019 23:39 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
1984 Bhopal gas tragedy,Union Carbide Corp,Dow Chemicals
Bhopal gas disaster survivors hold posters during a protest rally in Bhopal.(AFP File Photo)

The Supreme Court will hear in April the central government’s nine-year-old curative plea seeking higher compensation for the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy from Union Carbide Corp — a move that comes months before the latter ceases to exist because of a corporate restructuring.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi agreed to the Centre’s request to have an early hearing of its petition filed in December 2010. Additional solicitor general Madhvi Diwan appeared for the government . Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which has merged with DuPont to create Dow DuPont. By April 1, Dow DuPont plans to break up into three companies in a plan that will see the end of Union Carbide as an entity. To be sure, Dow acquired Union Carbide in 1999, a decade after the final settlement in the Bhopal case was arrived at. That is the settlement the Centre is challenging. The Centre filed a curative petition in December 2010 and wants a re-examination of the top court’s February 14, 1989, judgment.

According to that verdict, compensation for the accident was fixed at ~750 crore. Subsequent orders, of February 15 and May 4, 1989, determining the mode of payment and settlement also need to be reconsidered, the Centre has said.

The government’s application to list the curative petition for an early hearing was filed in November 2018. It said the matter “is extremely important involving public interest” and “any further delay in hearing” will not be in public interest. Irreparable loss and damage will be caused if the matter is not taken up on urgent basis, it added.

On December 3, 1984, poisonous Methyl Isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Madhya Pradesh’s capital killed thousands of people and left many suffering from the impact of the exposure. According to official estimates 3,787 people died in the industrial disaster but the unofficial estimate is around 8,000 immediately and another 8,000 over the years.

According to the Centre’s petition, the earlier settlement was based on incorrect assumptions on the number of deaths, injuries and losses, and did not take into account the subsequent environmental degradation. The curative petition has put the number of deaths in the tragedy at 5,295 and injuries at 527,894. It said the earlier settlement was based on 3,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries.

While the survivors of the tragedy have been fighting in courts for adequate compensation, a Bhopal court on June 7, 2010, convicted seven executives of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) to two years’ imprisonment in connection with the incident. Though the then UCC chairman, Warren Anderson, was the prime accused in the case, he was declared an absconder on February 1, 1992, as he did not appear for the trial. Anderson died in September 2014.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan (BGPMUS) convener Abdul Jabbar Khan welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision and said he hoped that justice would be done to the victims. “The unjust settlement of February 1989 was a complete sham with each gas victim being finally awarded less than one-fifth of the sum allotted even as per the terms of that settlement.”

Welcoming the top court decision, Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action said: “Neither the central government nor the state government ever presented facts on actual number of deaths and extent of injuries to the victims. Until and unless a correct figure is presented before the court, how will justice be done to the victims? It’s the duty of the governments to present a correct figure before the court.”

First Published: Jan 28, 2019 23:39 IST

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