‘‘Betrayal Again’’

Anurag Dwary and Saikat Kumar Bose

Hours after the Supreme Court turned down the Centre's plea for more compensation in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, those who lost their own in the disaster termed the verdict a "betrayal".

Over a lakh people were affected by the poisonous gas leak at the Union Carbide plant on December 2, 1984, widely considered the worst industrial disaster ever. Estimates of death range from 5,000 to as high as 25,000. There were injuries to almost 5,68,292 persons besides massive loss of livestock and property.

Rashida Bi lost seven members of her family in the tragedy. Speaking to NDTV at her Bhopal home, she said they continue to face health effects caused due to the gas leak. "The health problems continue. My brother was hospitalised today. The court's verdict is injustice", she said.

The Bhopal victims, she alleged, were denied their day in court because of the "pro-corporate bias" of the bench. "The counsel for Union Carbide was given ample time to speak, but the lawyer for the survivors' organisations was heard for just 45 minutes", she added.

The Centre had sought an additional compensation of Rs 7,844 crore from successor firms of Union Carbide. A compensation of Rs 715 crore was paid back in 1989. The Centre had argued that the scale of damage to human lives and the environment could not be assessed properly at the time of the settlement. ‘The contention of the central Government was that the compensation determined in 1989, was arrived on the basis of assumptions of truth unrelated to realities’. The government sought a re-examination of the apex court’s 14 February 1989 judgement but the court dismissed the Centre’s curative petition.

The court, however, said the Centre had not provided any rationale for raking up the issue now. The successor firms of Union Carbide, represented by senior advocate Harish Salve, had told the court that depreciation of the rupee since 1989 cannot be a ground to seek a "top-up" of compensation now. ‘The five-judge constitution bench was unsatisfied with the Union of India for raising the issue after two decades’.

Shehzadi, another survivor of the tragedy, said, "There was a betrayal in 1989. This is again a betrayal".

Balkrishna Namdeo, president of an organisation voicing the demands of the survivors, questioned how the court can "draw the curtain" when those affected in the gas leak disaster continue to die and suffer.

"How can you impose finality when the corporation's crimes continue to victimise people? When people continue to die untimely deaths from cancers and other chronic diseases induced by their exposure to the poisonous gas?" he asked.

"When the criminal remains absconding and the suffering of the victims, including that of their children, continues, how can a Supreme Court bench draw the curtain over the injustice in Bhopal?" Mr Namdeo asked.

The then Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson was prime accused in the case, but did not appear for the trial. A Bhopal court declared him an absconder in 1992. Two non-bailable warrants were issued before his death in 2014.

  (Source: India News)

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Vol 55, No. 40, April 2 - 8, 2023