‘Can’t Reopen Settlement After 30 Years’, SC to Center in Bhopal Hospitality Tragedy (Chapter)
A five-judge bench, headed by Judge Sanjay Kishan Kaul, asked Attorney General R. Venkataramani, who represented the center, that the settlement came to a certain stage, and can the court say that in 10 years, in 20 year, or in 30 years open the settlement based on new documents?
Senior attorney Harish Salve, representing Union Carbide, said there is a new set of documents. To this, the court further asked the AG whether new documents can be allowed in curative petition?
The bench – also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, AS Oka, Vikram Nath and JK Maheshwari – said no review had been filed by the government and a curative petition had been filed after a 19-year hiatus. It added that the settlement is between two parties and one of the parties is the Union of India and is not a weak party.
While the AG asked the court to review the settlement and whether it led to a fair conclusion, Judge Kaul asked him what was the scope of such a curative request, especially at this time?
Venkataramani responded that there was a change to the settlement and “we are not asking for the annulment of a settlement”. He clarified that he is not contesting the settlement, but wants more compensation for the victims of the tragedy.
The bank said it is bound by “maryada” of jurisdiction and the government cannot reopen a settlement reached with the company after more than 30 years.
It further noted that populism cannot be a basis for judicial review and asked counsel for the Center that once a settlement is reached with the Indian government, it can be reopened at a later stage.
Justice Kaul asked why Rs 50 crore was not paid out to the RBI. “This means the people didn’t get the money and was the government responsible for the money not going to the people?” he asked.
The AG said the number of plaintiffs had gone beyond what the review order had in mind. Judge Kaul said, “Attorney, please tell us why and why a curative has not been filed after a review has been filed?” The bank asked a specific question to the AG, how can the settlement be reopened?
Salve explained, “Our position is very simple. There is a settlement and there is no reopening clause in a settlement.” He added that aid and rehabilitation had been expressly excluded in the settlement and they are now asking for it.
During the day-long hearing, the court stressed that a settlement had been reached between the parties and that the court has approved it and now in curative jurisdiction, it cannot reopen that settlement as it would have major consequences. The AG argued that the concept of fiduciary relationship has grown over time and has been expanded by courts.
The bank told the AG the incident happened in 1984 and the settlement was reached in 1989. It further questioned whether the court should conclude that the government and all its organizations were unaware of the number of people with minor injuries for whom Rs 1,000 crore is now being sought.
The AG informed the top court that Rs 1,549 crore was paid out by the RBI between 1992 and 2004, and about Rs 1,517 crore was paid after 2004 as compensation.
The top court heard a curative petition filed by the Center in December 2010 for higher compensation for the victims of the Bhopal hospitality tragedy.
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