EXPLAINED| The Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims’ case before Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench

The Union of India had approached the Supreme Court in 2010 for enhancement of compensation for Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims through a Curative Petition based on different data recorded by the Courts and actual figures submitted by Union of India in the estimated number of deaths, injuries, expenditure incurred, etc. The Constitution Bench has reserved the verdict on 12-01.2023.

Supreme Court: The Constitution Bench comprising of Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, Abhay S. Oka, Vikram Nath and J.K. Maheshwari, J.J., reserved an order on 12-01-2023 pertaining to a petition seeking enhancement of compensation for the victims of the world’s largest industrial disaster- the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

In the year 1984, dangerous amount of Methyl Isocyanate gas (‘MIC gas’) escaped at an enterprise engaged in manufacturing agricultural pesticides, which resulted in death ofthousands of people, leaving many with temporary and permanent disability.

The Supreme Court had then passed a settlement order directing the Union Carbide Corporation to pay a sum of US$ 470 million, which was deposited with the Supreme Court Registrar in 1989.

The present petition was filed by the Union of India (‘UoI’) in 2010 as parens patriae of victims on the direction of Union Cabinet to claim enhanced compensation alleging that the quantum of damages payable had vitiated the Court’s affirmation under Union Carbide Corporation. v. Union of India, (1989) 3 SCC 38 (‘settlement judgment’) and Union Carbide Corporation. v. Union of India, (1991) 4 SCC 584 (‘review judgment’) The Court in both the judgments had underscored the possibility for a second look at the settlement and the need that may arise to do so.

The petitioner contended that after comprehensive review, the impugned judgments and orders were incorrect based on the underlying assumptions of the facts and data having vitiated the very foundation on which the compensation was awarded.

The petition is based upon the difference recorded by the Court and the actual figures submitted by UoI, in the estimated number of deaths, temporary disability and minor injury cases,

In addition, it is also based upon the claims of Rs 1743.15 Crores of actual expenditure incurred by the State towards relief and rehabilitation measures, and Rs 315.70 Crores on account of environmental degradation.

A comparison of the estimated figures and the actual figures is given below:

Court Record (Estimated Figures)

Data by the Welfare Commissioner (Actual Figures)

No. of deaths- 3,000

No. of deaths5497

No. of temporary disability – 20,000

No. of temporary disability – 34343

No. of minor injury- 50,000

No. of minor injury -527727

The petitioner asserted that the MIC gas leak event was an act of negligence and in breach of obligation of duty of care and duty not to act negligently. Having breached the same, the Union Carbide India Limited was under obligation to do all the things that would rectify the consequences and impact ofthe act of negligence.

The petitioner further alleged that the settlement between UCC and UoI could not be construed as effective and final on the basis of the decided quantum of compensation by way of 1989 ‘settlement judgment’ and 1991 ‘review judgment’ since the breach of duty of care and obligation was a continuing offence.

Thus, prayed for redetermining the payment of quantum of damages within a reasonable period.

[Union of India v. Union Carbide Corporation, Curative Petition (Civil) 345 – 347 of 2010, decided on on 12-01-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Petitioners: Attorney General of India R. Venkataramani, Additional Solicitor General Madhvi Divan, Senior Advocate R. Balasubramiam, Senior Advocate S. Wasim A Qadri, Advocate on Record Gurmeet Singh Makker, Advocate Chinmayee Chandra, Advocate Shradha Deshmukh, Advocate Vijayalakshmi Venkataramani, Advocate Anandh Venkataramani, Advocate Vinayak Mehrotra, Advocate Chitvan Singhal, Advocate Mansi Sood, Advocate Sonali Jain, Advocate Abhishek Kumar Pandey, Advocate Raman Yadav, Advocate Nakul Chengappa K.K., Advocate Akriti A Manubarwala, Advocate on Record Shreekant Neelappa Terdal, Advocate Karuna Nundy, Advocate on Record Aparna Bhat, Advocate Karishma Maria, Advocate Nischal Anand, Advocate Rahul Narayan, Advocate Muskan Tibrewala, Advocate Amanpreet Singh, Advocate Ragini Nagpal, Advocate Ishaan Karki and Advocate Sanchith Shiva Kumar;

For Respondents: Senior Advocate Harish N. Salve, Senior Advocate Ravindra Shrivastav, Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra, Advocate on Record Shiraz Contractor Patodia, Advocate Ashish Singh, Advocate Divya Sharma, Advocate Juhi Chawla, Advocate Mayank Singhal, Advocate Sanya Shukla, Advocate Devangna Singh, Advocate Gayatri Goswami, Advocate Pankaj Singhal, Advocate Shakti Singh, Advocate Ayush Anand, Advocate Ieshan Sharma, Advocate Karuna Nundy, Advocate on Record Aparna Bhat, Advocate Karishma Maria, Senior Advocate Sanjiv Sen, Advocate Aditya Ghadge, Advocate on Record Bina Gupta, Advocate Bharti Badesra, Advocate Anjali Singh, Advocate Gautam Khaitan, Advocate A.T. Patra.

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