Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Union Carbide Refuses to Pay More, SC Says Settlement Can't Be Reopened

"The court is not going to step into something which is not permissible and open the pandora's box," the court said.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday (January 10) asked why the Union government was trying to re-negotiate the compensation due to victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy decades after the event.

“The settlement was arrived at a particular stage of time. 10-20 years later can we open it up again on the basis of some fresh documents? It was by two parties. One of them is the Union of India, not a weak party. What has been troubling us is the scope of this after the period of time. Maybe you are right that settlement was not the best. But can we reopen it?” Bar and Bench quoted a constitution bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, Abhay S. Oka, Vikram Nath and J.K. Maheshwari as saying to the AG, when he wanted some fresh documents to be looked at.

The bench is hearing a curative petition filed by the Union government in 2010, challenging an earlier top court order concerning the settlement amount made by Dow Chemicals/Union Carbide Corporation to the families of the victims and survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

“The court is not going to step into something which is not permissible and open the pandora’s box. There was a settlement which was arrived at between the parties and the court has approved it. Now in curative jurisdiction, we cannot reopen that settlement. Our decision in one case will have wide ramification. You need to understand to what extent curative jurisdiction can be invoked,” the bench said, according to NDTV.

The Union government, in a curative plea, has contended that the 1989 settlement does not cover the required compensation amount, and so sought an additional Rs 7,400 crore from Union Carbide. This, the government has argued, is because new data has revealed the true extent of human suffering caused by the gas leak.

The pesticide company, however, has refused to release any additional money. “My client is not willing to pay a farthing more. They say this is what they settled for, and if you (government) don’t want the settlement, let the law take its course. That is our submission,” senior advocate Harish Salve said on behalf of Union Carbide, according to The Hindu.

“There was a settlement. I cannot be directed by judges hearing a curative to pay more. My liability has never been established. If the decree is to be set aside, the suit restores and consequences will follow. My client did agree to have his liability increased if more data found. There is no reopening clause…It cannot be like a public forum debate, that here is all the data by NGOs and government got its figure wrong,” he continued.