A five-judge constitution bench on Tuesday sought the Centre’s response on a curative petition filed by the erstwhile UPA government in 2011 seeking enhancement of the cumulative compensation for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims to Rs 7,413 crore from the Rs 750 crore awarded by the Supreme Court in February 14, 1989.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, A.S. Oka, Vikram Nath and J.K. Maheshwari deferred the hearing to October 11 following a request from solicitor-general Tushar Mehta who said he needed to seek instructions from the government on its stand.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh and advocate Karuna Nundy sought to argue on behalf of certain interveners seeking enhanced compensation for the 1984 tragedy. Justice Kaul clarified that the court would initially examine the stand of the Centre as the petition was curative in nature.
A curative petition is the last resort for any litigant as it is heard after dismissal or disposal of the original petition and a review petition. Review petitions and curative petitions are usually heard within the closed chambers of judges without any access to lawyers, media persons and litigants.
However, in exceptional cases the top court waives the rules and hears the matter in open court. In the curative petition filed in connection with the Bhopal disaster, the apex court has decided to hear it in open court due to the complex and crucial issues related to one of the worst-ever industrial tragedies.
Over 5,000 people died, over a lakh were left with disabilities and an unspecified number of people suffered the consequences for generations because of the chemical accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal.
“If the main curative petition is not pressed, then others will not hold,” the bench orally observed. This means if the Centre does not support the 2011 petition of the UPA-II dispensation, the court may dismiss the case.
“These are unfortunate incidents. Issue is whether compensation can be re-determined after certain period of time or a quietus needs to be obtained. When can we have it, Mr solicitor-general?” Justice Kaul asked Mehta. On Mehta’s request, the bench said it would post the matter for October 11 by which time the Centre is expected to firm up its response.
In January 2019, the NDA government through additional solicitor-general Madhavi Divan had submitted an application for urgent hearing, pleading that the matter had been pending since 2011. The court had agreed to take up the matter after April 2019. However, it could not be considered because the pandemic struck.
In February 2011, the then UPA government had filed the curative petition seeking enhanced compensation following nationwide outrage over the meagre two-year rigorous imprisonment handed to six former Union Carbide employees by a trial court in Bhopal. The court held them guilty of criminal negligence.
According to the UPA government, the compensation of Rs 750 crore fixed by the Supreme Court in its February 14, 1989, judgment was on the basis of incorrect records and calculations made at the time of the tragedy that did not take into account the colossal loss and its cascading effect on generations. Further, the government had said, the actual numbers of deaths and injuries were undervalued by officials.
The Centre had submitted that contrary to the original assumption that 3,000 people had died and over 71,000 had suffered injuries, the government was in possession of records that establish that the number of deceased was 5,295 and those who suffered injuries was around 5,30,000.