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SC dismissed plea for compensation to Bhopal Gas tragedy victims

  • Published
    15th Mar, 2023

The Supreme Court has dismissed a curative petition filed by the Centre, seeking ‘additional funds’ from ‘Union Carbide Corporations’ successor firms for extending higher compensation to victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, which led to the deaths of 3,000 people and caused significant environmental damage.

About the Case:
  • The Centre’s claim for a curative petition was based on a demand for additional compensation in a re-examination of the Supreme Court’s 1989 order where compensation was decided as Rs. 750 crores.
  • The plea also sought a relook at the Court’s orders relating to modes of payment and settlement, on grounds that the settlement was based on an incorrect estimate of the total number of deaths, injuries, and losses
  • It added that the environmental damage caused was never factored in, and thus sought to reopen the settlement on the basis of fresh documents.
  • According to the plea, the previous figure for deaths stood at 3,000 and for injuries at 70,000. 
  • However, the Central government contended that the actual number of deaths was 5,295, whereas injuries reached 5, 27,894.

Supreme Court’s stand:

  • The Court mentioned that the claimants had been provided more compensation than what was reasonably awarded to them under the law.
  • Responsibility was placed on the Union of India, being a welfare state, to make good the deficiency and to take out the relevant insurance policy.

Bhopal gas Tragedy, 1984:

  • In the early hours of December 3, 1984, methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from a plant operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) at Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). 
  • Methyl isocyanate (MIC) is a colourless highly flammable liquid that evaporates quickly when exposed to the air. It has a sharp, strong odour. 
  • It is used in the production of pesticides, polyurethane foam, and plastics.
  • MIC is safe when maintained properly. 
  • The chemical is highly reactive to heat. When exposed to water, the compounds in MIC react with each other causing a heat reaction.
  • The gas drifted over the densely populated neighbourhoods around the plant, killing thousands of people immediately and creating a panic as tens of thousands of others attempted to flee Bhopal. 
  • The final death toll was estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000
  • Some half a million survivors suffered respiratory problems, eye irritation or blindness, muscular dystrophy and other maladies resulting from exposure to the toxic gas.
  • The study found out that babies born to women exposed to gas were significantly more likely to have “congenital malformations” than those born to women unexposed to gas.

Govt's response to Bhopal tragedy:

  • The government passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985, which allowed it to act as the legal representative for victims.
  • The Supreme Court of India also laid down guidelines for the money — the family of the dead were to be given Rs.100, 000-300,000.
  • In addition, fully or partially disabled were to get Rs 50,000-500,000 and those with a temporary injury, Rs 25,000-100,000.
  • In June 2010, seven former employees of Union Carbide, who were all Indian nationals, were convicted of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years of imprisonment.
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