Why did SC dismiss curative petition for additional compensation for Bhopal gas tragedy victims?

File picture of Supreme Court of India

Activists have criticized the apex court judgment saying the court did not care about the closure for the victims. 

Huneza Khan | TwoCircles.net

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BHOPAL (MADHYA PRADESH) — On March 14, the Supreme Court of India dismissed the curative petition filed by the government of India seeking additional compensation of Rs 7413 crores from US-based Union Carbide Corporation (now Dow Chemicals), which is responsible for one of the deadliest industrial disasters on the night of 2-3 December 1984.

The Court noted that “settlement can be set aside only on the ground of fraud, but no ground of fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India.”

It also directed “that a sum of INR 50 crores lying with RBI ought to be utilized by the Union Government to satisfy pending claims if any.”

Speaking to the media at Neelam Park, activist Rachna Dhingra while criticising the Supreme Court’s judgment said that it is wrong and disappointing.

She said the Apex Court has repeated the injustice of February 1989. “They have once again violated the rights of Bhopal Gas victims. The Court heard Union Carbide for hours whereas Bhopal Gas Victim Organisations were only allowed 45 minutes to argue. Our judges were more concerned about the finality of the matter for UCC but none of the five judges cared about the closure of the matter for gas victims,” she said.

Dhingra said that gas tragedy victims will once again challenge the judgment in Court.

Dhingra further added that even after two decades, the Union government was not demanding additional compensation for Bhopal gas victims but rather to fill their own pockets. “They wanted to recover the expenses incurred by the government for rehabilitation and hospitals for gas victims,” she said.

Four decades on, Bhopal gas tragedy victims yet to find closure

“For 12 years the Bhopal gas victim organizations were fighting to put the correct figures of deaths and diseases to the Supreme Court but that never happened. The government is with UCC and today’s judgment also proved that the judiciary cares more about UCC and not the gas victims,” she added.

Excerpts from judgement
According to Live Law, while dismissing the curative petition the Apex Court mentioned the government’s failure to take out insurance policies as directed by the Supreme Court. “The responsibility was placed on the Union of India, being a welfare state, to make good the deficiency( in the compensation) and to take out the relevant insurance policy. Surprisingly, we are informed that no such insurance policy was taken out. This is gross negligence on the part of the Union and in breach of the judgment of this Court. The Union cannot be negligent on this aspect and then seek prayer from this Court to fix such responsibility on the UCC,” the Court stated.

The Court was unsatisfied with the government for not giving any proper justifications for bringing the matter 20 years after the incident. It said that the Union’s plea for additional compensation has no grounds on legal principles. “Either a settlement is valid, or it has to be set aside on the ground that it has been vitiated on the ground of fraud. No such fraud has been pleaded by the Union of India,” the bench said.

The Court noted that “the Union’s case is based on the number of victims and injuries which were not envisaged at the time when the settlement was effected. However, there was bound to be environmental degradation and it was known that medical facilities would have to be extended to rehabilitate people. It is the allegation of UCC that the Union and the State did not promptly detoxify the site and this aggravated the problem. In any case, this cannot be grounds to seek enhancement.”

Why did the union govt file curative petition?
The Union government had filed a curative petition in December 2022 seeking additional compensation of Rs 7413 crores and reviewing the previous settlement of February 1989 that finalized the compensation of 479 million US dollars.

The five judges Constitutional bench comprising Justice S.K. Kaul, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice AS Oka, Justice Vikram Nath, and Justice JK Maheshwari retained the judgment after a 3-day hearing in January 2023.

The government claimed that the earlier settlement was based on incorrect facts about the total number of casualties, injuries, and losses. The following environmental deterioration was not taken into account. The earlier number of deaths was 3000 along with 70,000 injury cases, however, according to the curative plea there were 5,295 casualties and 5,27,894 injuries.

What is a curative petition?
A curative petition can be filed when a review plea against a final conviction is dismissed, to prevent miscarriage of justice and abuse of process. It is decided by judges in the chamber unless an open-court hearing is requested.


Huneza Khan is a journalist from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. She tweets @KhanHuneza