On September 20th, 2022, the Government of India’s Bhopal Curative Petition, which seeks to reopen the civil settlement which it struck with Union Carbide in 1989, once again came up for hearing before the Supreme Court of India. After a short review, the session was put on hold while the court awaited a formal response from the Government of India as to whether they wished to continue to pursue the case. If not, the curative petition would be dropped from the courts and the original settlement agreement would stand.
On October 11th the court reconvened, with legal representatives of the Indian administration confirming that their intention is to continue to pursue the case for a new settlement agreement with Union Carbide, its owner The Dow Chemical Company, and the former subsidiary Union Carbide India Ltd, on behalf of the survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster.
Legal representatives for The Bhopal Group for Information and Action, as well as other survivor groups, were present at the proceedings as parties that had been ‘impleaded’ into the case in 2011, and who had submitted pleadings in support of the Government’s case. These included updated and figures of deaths and injuries, both in the immediate wake of the disaster and over the 38 years since. Though the central Government’s own figures within the petition for deaths and injuries resulting from the disaster are significantly higher than those quoted in the original 1989 settlement, the survivor groups argue that they still woefully underrepresent the true numbers. It is essential, they argue, that these figures are updated and a larger settlement negotiated, as the current sought amount of between $629 million and $1.2 billion would be wholly insufficient to remedy the actual extent of injuries and deaths caused by the 1984 gas disaster.
Following intervention by Union Carbide’s lawyers, the survivor groups’ status was modified by the court. The survivors themselves are now unable to file additional arguments before the court, and must depend upon the government of India to fairly and adequately representing their views before the court. Following a prior Supreme Court ruling (1990), the government is obliged to ensure that the survivors do have some input into the proceedings. To this end, the court has ruled that the Government consult with the survivors and present join compilations (pleas) at the next hearing, currently scheduled for January 2023. The Court itself has also assured that, at its own discretion, it will find an appropriate time to hear the views of survivors directly.
On the eve of the 38th anniversary, survivors right to be heard in the court proceedings now depends upon the Ministry of Law and Justice. Survivors have circulated a petition in gas-affected communities that urges the Government to make the required updates to the death and injury figures prior to the next hearing, and which has already received between 40-50,000 signatures. On the anniversary tomorrow, December 2nd, thousands of survivors will board trains to Delhi. On Saturday, December 3rd, they will seek an audience with the Government to agree these updates and ensure that, if and when justice is done as a result of the curative petition, no survivor is left unaccounted for.