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Supreme Court Overturns High Court Order re Bhopal Gas Disaster Settlement (1989) Claims

by Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Saghathan, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, 6 April 2011

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Bhopal Disaster Case: Supreme Court Overturns High Court Order

The Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly on 04.04.2011 was pleased to transfer the Special Leave Petition (SLP) No.12893 of 2010 filed by eight members of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan (BGPMUS) and the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) to the five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court for due consideration. The said SLP was filed before the Supreme Court on 17.03.2010 against the Order of the MP High Court that had on 30.11.2009 dismissed Writ Petition No.11276 of 2009 that the said members of BGPMUS and BGPSSS had filed against the dismissal on 31.01.2009 by the Welfare Commissioner, Bhopal, of the Petition filed by the said Petitioners on 28.08.2008.

In the said Petition, the said Petitioners sought to draw the attention of the Welfare Commissioner to the fact that the Bhopal Settlement amount of 470 million U.S. dollars that Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), had paid was disbursed to FIVE times as many gas-victims than to 105,000 gas-victims (including 3000 dead), which was the basis of the Settlement. The Settlement amount (Rs.713 crores at the value of the Rupee vis-à-vis the Dollar as on the date of the Bhopal Settlement, i.e., 14/15 February 1989) was disbursed to all the gas-victims through a lengthy process of adjudication that went on from 1992 to 2006. By 2004, it became evident that the Settlement sum (including interest and difference in Dollar=Rupee exchange value over the said period) was actually awarded to over 5,70,000 gas-victims, i.e., to more than five-times the figure of 105,000 gas-victims, which was the basis for quantifying the Settlement amount.

In other words, the Settlement was hastily arrived at under the aegis of the Supreme Court on 14/15.02.1989 after grossly underestimating the actual magnitude and severity of the Bhopal disaster of 02/03 December 1984. However, while the process of adjudication uncovered the actual magnitude of the disaster in terms of numbers (final figure being 573,588 gas-victims), no attempt was made to enhance the compensation amount in accordance with the results of the adjudication process. Instead, the Settlement amount of 470 million U.S. dollars, which was primarily meant to be disbursed among 105,000 gas-victims, was actually disbursed to 574,376 claimants (including 788 claims arising from loss of property and animals). This gross discrepancy in the process of disbursement meant that each gas-victim on an average was effectively awarded less than ONE-FIFTH of the compensation that he/she deserved to be awarded as per the terms of the Settlement (which itself was a paltry sum) by spreading the Settlement amount thin. The Petition that the Petitioners had filed before the Welfare Commissioner on 28.08.2008 was essentially a plea to award compensation to all the 573,588 gas-victims at least as per the terms of the Settlement after duly re-examining cases of death-claims that were arbitrarily rejected, death-claims that were downgraded to injury-claims, and injury cases that had aggravated over time.

The Curative Petition (Civil) filed by the Union of India on 03.12.2010 has partly conceded the validity of the said SLP filed by the said members of BGPMUS and BGPSSS. In the said Curative Petition, the Union of India has sought from UCC an additional amount of about Rs.5786 crores as compensation alone because of additional number of death & injury cases (but limited to registered cases up to 1997 only) that were not covered by the Settlement. Now that the matter has been referred to the Constitution Bench, the victims-organisations would be afforded an opportunity to place all the facts of the case before the said Constitution Bench. The main issues that have been raised in the SLP and the subsequent Additional Affidavit that were filed by the said members of BGPMUS and BGPSSS, in addition to pointing out the problem of underestimation of the magnitude of the disaster in terms of numbers, are problems related to:-

1. Wholesale conversion of about 10,047 (about 50% of the total) death claim cases to injury (simple & grievous) cases.

2. Arbitrary rejection of about 6,808 death claim cases.

3. Absence of mechanism for adjudication of aggravation of simple injury to grievous injury and even to death of victims after stoppage of registration of death and injury claims in 1997.

4. Denial of justice to the second and third generation gas-victims.

Advocates Sanjay Parikh, Aagney Sail and Anita Shenoy had appeared on behalf of the Petitioners. A copy of the Additional Affidavit submitted on behalf of the said members of BGPMUS and BGPSSS and a copy of the Order of the Supreme Court dated 04.04.2011 are annexed to this Note.

(Abdul Jabbar Khan)
for BGPMUS
09406511720
E-mail: swabhimankandra at rediffmail.com

(N.D.Jayaprakash)
for BGPSSS
09968014630
E-mail: jaypdsf at gmail.com

Bhopal Disaster Case - Additional Affidavit 01-02-2011
Order of Supreme Court 4 April 2011 in SLP No-12893 of 2010