Union Carbide gets court notice on plea to hike relief

Monday, February 28, 2011

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Monday issued notice to the Union Carbide Corporation on a petition by the central government seeking enhancement of compensation by Rs.7,844.22 crore for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victims.

The apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice R.V. Raveendran, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice Aftab Alam said it would hear the matter from April 13. The court said the hearing would take place for three days every week.

However, the court did not transfer the proceedings before the Madhya Pradesh High Court in a matter relating to compensation on account of environmental damages due the gas leak.

The question being considered by the high court is whether Dow Chemical Company should be treated as a successor to Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) India Ltd, from whose plant toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked Dec 3, 1984 in Bhopal, killing thousands of people.

The UCC became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company after its takeover Feb 6, 2001.

Attorney General G. Vahanvati earlier told the court that he was not pressing for the transfer of the case from the high court to the apex court.

Chief Justice Kapadia said that once the hearing commences there will be no adjournment.

The court has given three weeks’ time to the respondent company and others to file their reply and another one week to the central government to file a rejoinder.

The court asked Keshub Mahindra, who was chairman of Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary when the gas leak took place, to respond to CBI’s petition seeking the revision of charges against him from negligence to a stringent culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Negligence carries a maximum punishment of two years’ jail term. Culpable homicide not amounting to murder is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

On the basis of CBI’s charge sheet, in April 1993 an additional sessions judge, Bhopal, framed charges against Mahindra and others under penal provisions for culpable homicide.

On Sep 13, 1996, the Supreme Court held that the available evidence was not sufficient for framing charges against the accused under culpable homicide.

The apex court held that Mahindra and others could only be charged under penal provisions for negligence.

The current hearing in the apex court is linked to the investigating agency’s plea to slap the stringent culpable homicide charges against Mahindra and other company officials.

Mahindra was awarded two years’ jail term by the Bhopal trial court June 6, 2010, sparking protests by victims’ families who said it was too little.

Apart from slapping stringent charges on the accused, the government’s petition has also sought the enhancement of compensation for victims determined by the apex court in 1989.

The government’s petition said that the settlement arrived in 1989 was based on the “assumptions of truth unrelated to realities”.

The petition seeking enhancement of compensation by Rs.7,844.22 crore said the revised amount sought in 2010 was on account of devaluation of rupee, interest rate, and purchasing power parity and inflation index.

At the time of calculating earlier compensation, the number of dead was taken to be 3,000, which subsequently turned out to be 5,295. The victims with minor injuries were taken as 50,000 in 1989, which eventually turned out to 527,895.

The total revised compensation amount being sought in the petition is $1,241.38 million as on Aug 22, 2010. The basis of calculating this amount is that the compensation awarded in February 1989 was Rs.675.96 crore ($442.67 at the then prevailing rates).

The central government contended that if the said amount had remained invested in on yearly basis, then it would have become $1,241.38 million on Aug 22, 2010. In rupee terms the amount comes to Rs.5,786.07 crore.

The petition is also seeking the reimbursement of Rs.1,743.15 crore which the central and Madhya Pradesh governments spent in the aftermath of the tragedy for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims.

The central government’s petition also seeks compensation of Rs.315.7 crore, which were spent on the handling of toxic waste of the gas plant.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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