General Studies Paper 1
- The Union of India calls the Bhopal gas leak tragedy the world’s largest industrial disaster. The government demanded more compensation in its curative petition. Thirty-nine years after the incident, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice S. K. Kaul has reserved its judgment on a curative petition filed by the Centre in November 2010 to enhance the $470 million (about ₹725 crore at the then exchange rate) compensation fixed in a 1989 settlement reached with Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, with the imprimatur of the apex court. The government has sought an additional amount of ₹675.96 crore in compensation from the pesticide company. The UCC has refused to pay a “farthing more”. The court made it clear that it would not “try” the curative petition like an ordinary suit and reopen the settlement.
Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984):
- Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals), an MNC, in Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal.
- It is estimated that about 40 tonnes of gas and other chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide factory.
- Methyl isocyanate: It is an extremely toxic gas and if its concentration in the air touches 21ppm (parts per million), it can cause death within minutes of inhaling the gas.
- It is one of the worst chemical disasters globally and still continues to have its ill effects on the people of the affected areas.
- Public Liability Insurance Act (1991):
- Making it mandatory for industries to get insurance,
- The premium for this insurance would contribute to an Environment Relief Fund to provide compensation to victims of a Bhopal-like disaster.
- They are a by-product of
- The Indian chemical industries comprise small, medium and large-scale units.
- The chemical industry includes:
- basic chemicals and their intermediates
- fertilizers, paints, pesticides
- bulk drugs and pharmaceuticals (most diversified industrial sectors)
Rules governing the safety of the workers employed in factories and industries:
- Indian Factories Act, 1948.
- The Dock Workers (Safety, Health & Welfare) Act, 1986.
- These legislations regulate the working conditions of individuals employed at sites of industrial activity and prescribe rules for the maintenance of site safety.
- Labour codes.
What is the issue now?
- Supreme Court:It has reserved its judgment on a curative petition filed by the Centre in 2010 to enhance the $470 million, compensation fixed in a 1989 settlement reached with Union Carbide Corporation (UCC).
- The government has sought an additional amount of ₹675 crore in compensation from the pesticide company.
- The UCC has refused to pay a “farthing more”.
What is the basis for the plea for more compensation?
- The basis of the $470 million settlement:there were only around 3,000 death cases in the gas leak incident.
- The government’s curative petition in 2010 said the actual figure is 5,295 deaths.
- Report submitted by the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal Gas Victims: It shows the number of deaths have increased to 5,479 as on December 15, 2022.
- The Commissioner’s report further said the number of cases of cancer and renal failure were 16,739 and 6,711, respectively.
- The government’s chart shows that the total number of cases of deaths, disability, injuries, loss of property and livestock have increased to around five lakh seventy four thousand from the two lakh “assumed.
Is more relief possible in a curative petition?
- Ashok Hurra versus Rupa Hurra case(2002):
- It is the rarest-of-rare remedies when “the duty to do justice shall have to prevail over the policy of certainty of a judgment and declining justice would be oppressive to judicial conscience and perpetuate an irremediable injustice”.
A party can take only two limited grounds in a curative petition:
- He/she was not given an opportunity to be heard,
- Judges were biased.
What are the rival contentions?
- Attorney General of India:It had urged the court to look beyond the conservative principles of law(beyond the restrictions of the curative jurisdiction).
- Government: Parliament had enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act of 1985.
- It has an obligation to protect the victims’ interests “effectively and equitably”.
- The UCC:
- Settlement was arrived at on the basis of a “consent decree” sourced from a suit.
- The liability of UCC for the tragedy was never established.
- There was no “reopener clause” in the settlement.
- At the heart of the legal dispute is a paragraph from the October 3, 1991 order of the Supreme Court. The paragraph discussed the “unlikely event” of the 1989 settlement funds being found insufficient to satisfy the claims of all the victims. While stressing that the victims should not be left to “fend for themselves”, the court, in 1991, had said the “reasonable way to protect the interests of the victims is to hold that the Union of India, as a welfare state and in the circumstances under which the settlement was made, should not be found wanting in making good the deficiency, if any”.