Asserting that no private individual can lay a claim against it for damages, the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) has moved the Supreme Court against letting the victims’ organisations intervene in the curative petition that was filed by the central government to seek additional compensation for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.
The UCC has sought clarification of an order passed by the court in April 2011 whereby five victims’ groups were allowed to intervene in the matter. The Corporation, which entered into a settlement with the Union of India in 1989 regarding the damages, has claimed no distinct right was available with the victims’ organisations and NGOs leading the battles on behalf of those affected by the gas leak.
The Centre had in December 2010 filed the curative petition in the apex court seeking an order to the UCC for enhancing the settlement amount and reimbursement of relief and rehabilitation expenses incurred by the state and central governments. The petition was last heard four years ago and is pending final hearing. Now, the application filed by the UCC in the SC earlier this week has contended that in 1985 a scheme was framed under the Bhopal Act under which all individual claims were to be resolved through quasi-judicial proceedings.
“The amount of compensation payable for the disaster, as defined under the Act, could only be litigated by the central government in respect of any claim…the disbursal of claims was governed by a statutory scheme, which is legislative in character, and it was placed before Parliament, and was given overriding effect over all other laws,” said the plea by senior lawyer Harish Salve.
Thus, the UCC argued, that any claim by anyone beyond the amount notified as payable under the scheme is misconceived. “The victims’ rights are now sounded in the Bhopal Act… and the notifications issued… by the central government under the scheme. If the non-applicants find fault with any of these (orders), they would have to challenge the actions of the Union of India — they cannot seek to become co-petitioners…all private parties have to appear through the Union of India and have no independent right of carriage of proceedings,” said the UCC.
It stated that these groups were neither parties to the original civil suit in Bhopal nor were they parties to the review petition in the SC whereby the settlement was affirmed. The UCC said that the bench had in 2011 allowed the impleadment of these groups but in the revised order, notices on the maintainability of these applications were also issued. Therefore, it said, until the court allows their impleadment, it should clarify that these groups were not co-petitioners.