On January 28th 2020 a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court sits to begin the most important, potentially the most historic hearing on Bhopal for over thirty years.
Shortly after the gas tragedy, India took over responsibility for all legal claims against Union Carbide. Following a US Courts refusal to hear the claims, claims worth $3.3 billion were filed in India’s courts. In 1989 India and Carbide settled these claims for $470 million – less than 15% of the original demand. The amount was upheld by review judgment in 1991.
In June 2010 verdicts in the criminal trial of officials of Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary caused a national furore. As a result the Indian government faced immense public pressure to remedy outstanding issues of criminal, civil, environmental and economic injustice in Bhopal. It filed a civil ‘curative’ petition on December 3, 2010 seeking to cure the “gross miscarriage of justice and perpetration of irremediable injustice being suffered by the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy”.
To cure Bhopal the civil curative petition seeks a sum of between $629 million and $1.2 billion as additional compensation from Union Carbide and its owner Dow Chemical for 2,295 deaths and 466,293 injured persons not included within the calculus for the settlement of 1989. In contrast, survivor organisations filed supporting affidavits citing official medical records to argue for additional compensation totalling $8.1 billion.
The 1989 settlement, which estimated just 3,000 deaths and 30,000 permanently injured survivors, led to payments of $494 each to 93% of the 574,376 people successfully awarded compensation. Survivors given this amount were categorised with temporary or minor injuries. But official medical records show that 18 years after the disaster some 502,686 survivors (88% of the total population acknowledged to be injured) were evidencing chronic illnesses. The government’s claims in the curative petition, which detail 527,894 ‘minor’ injuries, whitewash the reality that MIC exposure caused permanent residual injury in those exposed.
Nor do the government’s figures in the curative petition represent the true and actual number of deaths from the disaster. Whereas the agency tasked with authority to oversee the categorisation, assessment and adjudication of compensation claims registered 15,248 official deaths due to the gas disaster until 1997 (when collection of data was discontinued), the government includes claims for only 5,295 deaths, figures that also disregard data published by India’s apex medical research agency, the ICMR, which conducted ten year studies on morbidity and mortality in Bhopal. Using this data, survivor organisations calculate at least 22,917 deaths until 2010.
Since 2010, survivor groups have undertaken numerous protests, written dozens of letters and held a number of private meetings with state and national officials to obtain correction of the false figures presented within the curative petition. Nothing has yet been rectified.
The profound injustice of the 1989 settlement, for which not a single survivor was consulted, may finally be remedied, but only if the court thinks and acts boldly in service to principles of justice, seizes the historic opportunity it is given and allows itself to hear the voices of those whom until now have been silenced and disregarded.
For important documents and source material related to this petition, please browse through this page: Background to the Curative Petition for Additional Compensation
THIS IS OUR LAST CHANCE TO HELP ENSURE SURVIVORS GET FAIR AND ADEQUATE COMPENSATION.
The situation couldn’t be more urgent. Please help. Before the chance is gone forever, we must bring huge pressure upon the newly elected Government of Madhya Pradesh, the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, and the Prime Minister of India to represent survivors’ reasonable claims before the Supreme Court of India.
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