Callous and dishonest!
Posted October 11, 2010on:
The survivors of the Bhopal gas leak disaster are back to square one, the hopes of an early redress of their grievances generated after the June 7 judgement of the Bhopal CJM’s court and the subsequent deliberations by the GoM having dissipated. The Central and Madhya Pradesh governments are not behaving callously but outright dishonestly in this matter. The higher judiciary is also, wittingly or unwittingly, helping in the perpetuation of injustice to the survivors.
Is there an explanation for a Supreme Court notice not reaching the Union Government even in five months and the apex court, too, taking it for granted? This happened because the petitioners were the hapless Bhopal gas leak survivors and not glamorous film stars or high-profile cricketers or influential politicians accused of having swindled crores of public money.
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) convener Abdul Jabbar and seven others representing the survivors, aggrieved by the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s refusal to revise compensation norms in view of the changed circumstances, moved a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court on March 17 this year. The apex court ordered issuance of notices to the Union Government and the Welfare Commissioner (Bhopal Gas) on April 23, seeking their replies. For five months the legal representatives of the Union Government continued to claim that they had not received the notices, though the Union Government has its legal offices right in the Supreme Court building.
It was only in the latter half of September that the advocates of the petitioners stormed into the office of the Registrar-General of Supreme Court and insisted on the notices being handed over to them so that they could hand-deliver them to the parties.
While the notice was served on the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertiliser (the nodal ministry for the Bhopal gas relief) in Delhi, a group of survivors led by BGPMUS convener Abdul Jabbar and N.D.Jaiprakash of Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti (BGPSSS) from Delhi, handed it over to a functionary in the office of the Welfare Commissioner (Bhopal Gas) in Bhopal. Welfare Commissioner is appointed to oversee the disbursal of compensation to the victims and attend to their problems and grievances. The post has, however, been lying vacant for quite some time. Now how long will they take to submit their replies is anybody’s guess.
Earlier, the Centre’s curative petition seeking a revision of the apex court’s 1996 judgement was returned by the Registrar’s office because it was found to be defective and incomplete – even though it was prepared under the supervision and direction of the attorney-general.
The petition of the survivors before the Supreme Court is very significant and will go a considerable way in redressing the grievances of the survivors, if allowed. But the apathetic attitude of the governments and judiciary – which has been witnessed in the past quarter century – gives little hope in the matter.
The petition arises out the initial settlement that the Union Government had arrived at with the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), assuming 3, 000 dead and 1,02,000 injured, and the subsequent circumstances. The settlement was signed ignoring the protests by over 30 organisations from all over India. However, the Supreme Court did hear them and passed an order which, inter alia, said: Ä settlement has been recorded upon material and in circumstances which persuaded the Court that it was a just settlement. This is not to say that this Court will shut out any important material and compelling circumstances which might impose a duty on it to exercise the powers of review. Like all other human institutions, this Court is human and fallible. What appears to the Court to be just and reasonable in that particular context and setting need not necessarily appear to others in the same way.”
Magnitude of disaster
The apex court reiterated this observation several times as new developments were brought to its notice by the survivors. In 1991 it said: it is, however, necessary to ensure that in the perhaps unlikely event of the settlement fund being found inadequate to meet the compensation determined in respect of all the present claimants, those persons who may have their claims determined after the fund is exhausted are not left to fend for themselves. But, such a contingency may not arise having regard to the size of the settlement fund. If it should arise, the reasonable way to protect the interests of the victims is to hold that the Union of India, as a welfare State and in the circumstances in which the settlement was made, should not be found wanting in making good the deficiency, if any. We hold and declare accordingly.”
In 2004, the Supreme Court formally acknowledged the actual magnitude of the disaster in terms of the number of dead and injured. It said: “… Ms Indira Jaisingh, learned Senior Counsel, submitted that the amount available may fall short to satisfy the claims of all persons fully and in that regard, she would make necessary application. It is open for her to do so.”
The important issues, arising from the changed circumstances and raised by the petitioners, included unjustness of compensation in the event of aggravation of injury, delay in disbursement of compensation, denial of interest on delayed compensation, review of wholesale conversion of more than 10,044 death claim cases, and arbitrary ban on registration of death claim cases since 1997. (As per the official records, the total number of claims filed was 10,01,723 of which 5,53,015 cases were awarded a total sum of Rs 1,442.11 crore. The number of claims of deaths registered was 22,149, of which only 15,180 were awarded.)
Both the Welfare Commissioner (Bhopal Gas) and the Madhya Pradesh High Court had refused to consider the survivors’ plea to made appropriate orders in view of the changed circumstances in the light of the Supreme Court orders.