The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it will pursue litigation seeking additional compensation from United States-based firm Union Carbide Corporation to survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, PTI reported.

The development comes a day after the court sought the government’s stand on the matter.

In 2010, the United Progressive Alliance government had filed a curative petition seeking additional compensation of Rs 7,844 crore from the successors of the Union Carbide Corporation for the victims of the industrial accident. A curative petition is a plea asking a court to re-examine its decision even after a review petition in the matter is dismissed.

The petition by the Centre sought the re-examination of a judgement of the Supreme Court from 1989 that had fixed the compensation at $470 million (Rs 750 crore). The Union government contended that the figure was based on incorrect assumptions on the number of deaths, injuries and losses, and did not take into account subsequent environmental degradation, reported Live Law.

During the hearing on Tuesday, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice SK Kaul noted that Union Carbide has questioned the maintainability of the petitions filed by non-governmental organisations seeking that they be heard in the case. The company questioned why the NGOs approached the court 19 years after the judgement, reported PTI.

“The Government would represent plaints of persons who have suffered and thus a compilation would be required to be prepared by the office Attorney General and the office of the respondent,” the bench said.

The court will hear the matter next on January 10, 2023.

The survivors of the tragedy have been seeking adequate compensation and proper medical treatment for ailments caused by the toxic gas leak. On Monday, survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy had protested in front of Nirman Bhavan in New Delhi, a day ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on a curative petition.

Nawab Khan, a member of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said that unless figures on deaths and injuries are corrected immediately, the Centre’s curative petition would only “heap more injustice” on survivors of the industrial accident, The Hindu reported.

“Among the loudest voices criticising the UPA government in 2010 over Bhopal were the leaders of the current government, but since assuming power they are nowhere to be seen,” Khan said.

The Union Carbide Corporation, now owned by Dow Chemicals, gave compensation of $470 million (Rs 750 crore) following the 1989 judgement of the Supreme Court. The settlement was based on the earlier figure of 3,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries. However, the curative petition has put the death numbers at 5,295 and injuries at 5,27,894, reported Live Law.

Bhopal gas tragedy

In December 1984, methyl isocyanate and other toxic gases leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited, then located on the outskirts of the state capital Bhopal.

More than five lakh people were exposed to the toxic gases and at least 4,000 were killed in the following days. Thousands more died due to the effects of the gas leak in subsequent years. Government figures estimate that there have been 15,000 deaths as a result of the disaster over the years.

Survivors have increased rates of cancer and birth defects, and suffer from a compromised immune system. In April 2019, the International Labour Organization listed the Bhopal gas tragedy among the world’s major industrial accidents in the last century.