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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Court orders relief to Bhopal gas victims
By J. Venkatesan

A BIG VICTORY: Some of the gas victims show the victory sign in Bhopal on Monday after the Supreme Court ordered the Government to disburse Rs. 1,503 crores to the survivors of the tragedy. — Photo: A.M. Faruqui

NEW DELHI, JULY 19 . The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to disburse among the five lakh Bhopal gas victims the relief amount of Rs. 1,503 crores (with interest) lying with the Reserve Bank of India.
The money, given by Union Carbide, under a settlement with the Government of India, amounted to $ 470 million.
A Bench of Justices Shivaraj V. Patil and B.N. Srikrishna directed that the money be distributed on a pro rata basis among the disaster victims, who include the kith and kin of the dead and the injured. It ordered the Welfare Commissioner of the Bhopal Gas Relief Fund to file a report on the manner in which the money was distributed. It posted the matter for further hearing after two months.
The Union Carbide had given $ 470 million as its liability towards the victims in 1989 before the Supreme Court, which had directed that the money be put in a dollar account. This amount with interest has now accumulated to Rs. 1,503 crores. The Bench passed the order after hearing counsel S. Muralidhar appearing for petitioners, Abdul Samad Khan and 35 others of Bhopal. He submitted that the amount with interest was yet to be disbursed by the Government out of the total compensation amount of $ 470 million it received from Union Carbide.
He contended that the compensation was too meagre in comparison with the minimum amounts contemplated to be paid in terms of the settlement. Further, many of the claimants had to wait for over 12 to 18 years after the disaster to receive the meagre compensation and without interest.
On the intervening night of 2-3 December, 1984 the worst-ever industrial disaster of the 20th century occurred in Bhopal with the leakage of 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate and other lethal gases.
The leakage resulted in the death of over 4,000 people on the date of disaster itself and this figure swelled to 16,000 over the years and during the period people continued to suffer from the after-effects. Several lakhs in Bhopal, including unborn children, suffered from multiple systemic injuries.

The petitioners submitted that the present position, according to the records of the office of the Welfare Commissioner, was that a total of 10,29,431 claims were received up to March 31, 2002 of which 10,29,254 were adjudicated. Of these, 5,66,786 cases had been awarded compensation to the tune of Rs. 1151.51 crores and the balance available for disbursement was about Rs. 1,503 crores.
The petition sought a mandamus to the Union of India to distribute the remaining amount out of the compensation money retained by it among the victims and to ensure the payment on interest on the amount of compensation awarded to the victims in individual claims from the date of accident till the date of payment to the claimants at a rate determinable in accordance with the provisions of Interest Act, 1978.

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