New Delhi, Jan 10 () The Supreme Court on Tuesday grilled the Centre on how the settlement can be reopened, when Union Carbide has already paid over $ 470 million to the Bhopal gas tragedy victims, and also expressed concern over Rs 50 crore undisbursed funds.
A five-judge bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul asked the Attorney General (AG) R. Venkataramani, representing the Centre, that the settlement was arrived at a particular stage of time, and can the court say that 10 years hence, 20 years hence or 30 years hence, open the settlement on the basis of fresh documents?
Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Union Carbide, said there is a new set of documents. The bench further queried the AG, can any fresh documents be permitted in curative petition?
The bench also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, A.S. Oka, Vikram Nath, and J.K. Maheshwari – said no review was filed by the government and a curative petition was filed after a gap of 19 years. It added that the settlement is between two parties and one of the parties is the Union of India and it is not a weak party.
The AG replied that just have a look at the settlement, did it bring about a just conclusion? Justice Kaul asked the AG, what was the scope of such a curative petition, especially at this point in time? Venkataramani replied that there was an amendment to the settlement and “we are not asking for a settlement to be annulled”.
Justice Kaul asked why Rs 50 crore were lying undisbursed. He further added this means that the people were not getting the money, and was the government responsible for the money not going to the people?
The AG said the number of claimants had gone beyond what the review judgment had in mind. Justice Kaul said, “Attorney, please address us why and how not having filed a review a curative is moved?” The bench asked a specific query to the AG, how can settlement be reopened?
Salve submitted: “Our position is very simple. There is a settlement and there is no reopener clause in a settlement.” He added that in the settlement, relief and rehabilitation was expressly excluded and now, they are asking for it. The arguments in the matter will continue after lunch.
On October 11, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that it was keen to pursue its curative petition seeking enhancement of compensation to the Bhopal gas tragedy victims over the $470 million, which has already been paid by Union Carbide. The AG had submitted that it is a tragedy unfolding everyday and victims can’t be abandoned.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the victims, had argued that over the years, the tragedy’s intensity has increased fivefold deaths, the number of victims, and the extent of injuries.
On September 20 last year, the Supreme Court asked the Centre’s counsel to get instructions whether it wants to pursue its curative petition seeking enhancement of compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims – over the $470 million, which has already been paid by Union Carbide.
In 2011, a five-judge bench of the top court had issued notice to the Union Carbide Corporation, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals Co., US.