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'Can't reopen settlement after 30 years', SC to Centre in Bhopal gas tragedy

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New Delhi, Jan 10 (Ajit Weekly News) 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 Attorney General 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. At this, the bench further queried the AG if any fresh documents can 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.

As the AG sought that the court have a look at the settlement and if it did bring about a just conclusion, Justice Kaul asked him 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”. He clarified he is not challenging the settlement but wants more compensation for the victims of the tragedy.

The bench said that it is bound by ‘maryada’ of jurisdiction and the government cannot reopen a settlement arrived at with the company after over 30 years.

It further observed that populism cannot be a basis for judicial review and queried the Centre’s counsel that once a settlement is reached with the Indian government, how can it be reopened at a later stage?

Justice Kaul asked why Rs 50 crore were lying undisbursed with the RBI. “This means that the people were not getting the money, and was the government responsible for the money not going to the people?” he asked.

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.

During the daylong hearing, the bench stressed that there was a settlement which was arrived at between the parties and the court has approved it and now in curative jurisdiction, it cannot reopen that settlement, as it would have wide ramification. The AG argued that the fiduciary relationship concept has grown over a period of time and has been expanded by courts.

The bench told the AG that the incident happened in 1984 and the settlement was arrived at in 1989. It further queried whether the court should conclude that the government and all its organisations were not aware of the number of people with minor injuries for whom Rs 1,000 crore is being sought now.

The AG informed the top court that between 1992 and 2004, Rs 1,549 crore was disbursed by the RBI, and around Rs 1,517 crore was paid after 2004 as compensation.

The top court was hearing a curative petition filed by the Centre in December 2010 for enhanced compensation for the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy.

–Ajit Weekly News


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