Friday, October 7, 2022

Bhopal gas tragedy: SC judge recuses from hearing Centre’s plea for more compensation

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Supreme Court judge S Ravindra Bhat on Tuesday recused himself from hearing the Centre’s plea for enhanced compensation of Rs 7,844 crore for 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victims from successor firms of Union Carbide following which the case was adjourned till Wednesday.

When the curative petition came up before a five-judge led by Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Bhat said he was the Union government’s counsel in 1989 when the Union had sought a review in the case and expressed his unwillingness to be part of the Constitution bench.

“We will not take it up today. Chief Justice SA Bobde will take a call on the composition of a bench for hearing matter,” the court said.

The bench, which also comprised Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran and MR Shah, asked the parties to come before it at 10.30 am on Wednesday.

The Union government has sought increase in the compensation to Rs 7,844 over and above the Rs 750 crore fixed by the top court in 1989 from US major Dow Chemicals and other successor firms of Union Carbide Corporation.

Dow Chemicals, which had acquired Union Carbide in 2001, has been made the main respondent in the case.

The tragedy on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, after the leakage of highly poisonous methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, had officially claimed the lives of 5,295 people as against the earlier figure of 3,000, according to the petition.

It had affected over 5 lakh people against the previous figure of 70,000.

The Centre had in November 2018 pleaded for early listing of the curative petition which was filed in December 2010.

The apex court had directed in January last year that the matter be taken up in April 2019. The plea was recently listed for hearing today.

The government has sought the additional compensation, saying the previous amount was based on an incorrect number of deaths and injuries. The earlier compensation had also disregarded environmental damages caused by the leakage of methyl isocyanate.

Various victims’ groups like Bhopal Gas Peedith Stationery Mahila Karamchari Sangh, Bhopal Group for Information and Action and Children against Dow Carbide, were earlier allowed to be impleaded in the matter.

Warren Anderson, who was the chairman of Union Carbide when the tragedy occurred, was named as the prime accused in the case. He, however, was declared an “absconder’ since he failed to appear in the trial. Anderson died in 2014.

A court in Bhopal had in 2010 sentenced seven persons to two years in prison.

The Centre’s petition has also sought stricter punishment for the convicts, saying that they had full knowledge of the design flaws of the plant, including the complete lack of any emergency remedial facilities in case of a runaway reaction of the methyl isocyanate stored.

Curative petitions are generally heard in chambers, but the apex court had last year decided to take up the government’s plea in open court.

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