Carbide Corporation Vs. Union of India  INSC 179 (4 May 1989)
R.S. (Cj) Pathak, R.S. (Cj) Venkataramiah, E.S. (J) Misra Rangnath Venkatachalliah,
M.N. (J) Ojha, N.D. (J)
1990 AIR 273 1989 SCC (2) 540 1989 SCALE (1)932
Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of claims) Act, 1985: Court
giving reasons for the overall settlement order dated February 14, 1989--Compelling duty both judicial and
humane to secure immediate relief to the victims.
Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy that occurred at midnight of 2nd
December, 1984, by the
escape of deadly chemical fumes from the appellant's factory was a great
industrial disaster and it took an immediate toil of 2600 human lives and left
tens of thousands of innocent citizens of Bhopal physically affected in various ways. As per the figures furnished by
the Union of India in its amended plaint a total number of 2,660 persons
suffered agonising and excruciating deaths between 30,000 to 40,000 persons
sustained serious injuries as a result of the said disaster.
proceedings for the recovery of compensation for the victims were initiated
against the multi-national company first in the U.S. Courts and later in Distt.
Court at Bhopal in Suit No. 113 of 1986. The
present appeals concern with the order dated 4th April, 1988 passed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court whereby it modified
the interlocutory order dated 17.12.1987 made by the Distt. Judge and granted
interim compensation of Rs.250 crores. Both the Union of India and the Union
Carbide Corporation have appealed to this Court against that order.
Court by its order dated the
14th February, 1989
made in these appeals directed that there shall be an overall settlement of the
claims in the suit for 470 million U.S. Dollars and termination of all civil
and criminal proceedings. On May 4, 1989 the
Court pronounced its reasons for its aforesaid order dated 14.2.89thus:
Statement of the reasons is not made with any sense of finality as to the
infallibility of the decision; but with an open mind to be able to appreciate
any tenable and compelling legal or factual infirmities that may be brought
out, calling for remedy in review under Article 137 of the Constitution.
[132C-D] 129 The basic consideration motivating the conclusion of the
settlement was the compelling need for urgent relief. Considerations of
excellence and niceties of legal principles were greatly over-shadowed by the
pressing problems of very survival for a large number of victims. [133A, C] The
instant case is one where damages are sought on behalf of the victims of a mass
disaster, and having regard to the complexities and the legal question
involved, any person with an unbiased vision would not miss the time consuming
prospect for the course of the litigation in its sojourn through the various
courts, both in India and later in United States. This Court considered it a
compelling duty. both judicial and humane, to secure immediate relief to the
victims. In doing so, the Court did not enter upon any forbidden ground. What
this Court did was in continuation of what had already been initiated. [133E-F,
H; 134A] The range of choice for the Court in regard to the figures was,
therefore, between the maximum of 426 million U.S. Dollars offered by Shri Nariman
and the minimum of 500 million U.S. Dollars suggested by the Attorney General.
Having regard to all the circumstances including the prospect of delays
inherent in the judicial process in India and thereafter in the matter of
domestication of the decree in the United States for the purpose of execution,
the Court directed that 470 million U.S. Dollars which upon immediate payment
and with interest over a reasonable period, pending actual distribution amongst
the claimants, would aggregate very nearly to 500 million U.S. Dollars or its
rupee equivalent of approximately Rs.750 crores which the Attorney General had
suggested. be made the basis of the Settlement.
135A-B] The Settlement proposals were considered on the premises that the Government
had the exclusive statutory authority to represent and act on behalf of the
victims and neither counsel had any reservation as to this. The order was also
made on the premises that the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and
Processing of Claims) Act 1985 was a valid law. [135B-C] There might be
different opinions on the interpretation of laws or on questions of policy or
even on what may be considered wise or unwise; but when one speaks of justice
and truth, these words mean the same thing to all men whose judgment is
uncommitted. [140B-C] The compulsions of the need for immediate relief to tens
of 130 thousands of suffering victims could not wait till these questions,
vital though they be, are resolved in due course of judicial proceedings. [142D-E]
A 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 any 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 day. Which view is right, in the
ultimate analysis, is to be judged by what it does to relieve the undeserved
suffering of thousands of innocent citizens of this country. [142F-G] Decisions
of courts cannot be reacted or altered or determined by agitational pressures.
If a decision is wrong, the process of correction must be in a manner recognised
by law. All of those who invoke the corrective processes in accordance with law
shall be heard and the court will do what the law and the course of justice
requires. The matter concerns the interests of a large number of victims of a
mass disaster. The Court directed the settlement with the earnest hope that it
would do hem good and bring them immediate relief, for, tomorrow might be too
ate for many of them. But the case equally concerns the credibility of, and the
public confidence in, the judicial process. [143B, D-E] Those who trust this
Court will not have cause for despair.
M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 1(186; Theories of Compensation, R.E.
Goodin: Oxford journal of Legal Studies, 1989 p.57
and Wallace Mendelson.. Supreme Court Statecraft--The Rule of Law and men,
APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal Nos. 3187 and 3188 of 1988.
the Judgment and Order dated 4.4.1988 of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in CR
No. 26 of 1988.
B. Dewan, J.B. Dadachanji, Mrs. A.K. Verma for the appellant.
A. Mariarputham, Miss A. Subhashini and C.L. Sahu for the Respondents.
The following Order of the Court was delivered:
Bhopal Gas Leak tragedy that occurred at midnight on 2nd
December, 1984, by the
escape of deadly chemical fumes from the appellant's pesticide-factory was a
horrendous industrial mass disaster, unparalleled in its magnitude and
devastation and remains a ghastly monument to the de-humanising influence of
inherently dangerous technologies. The tragedy took an immediate toll of 2,660
innocent human lives and left tens of thousands of innocent citizens of Bhopal physically impaired or affected in
various degrees. What added grim poignance to the tragedy was that the
industrial-enterprise was using Methyl Iso-cyanate, a lethal toxic poison,
whose potentiality for destruction of life and biotic-communities was,
apparently, matched only by the lack of a pre-package of relief procedures for
management of any accident based on adequate scientific knowledge as to the
ameliorative medical procedures for immediate neutralisation of its effects.
unnecessary for the present purpose to refer, in any detail, to the somewhat
meandering course of the legal proceedings for the recovery of compensation
initiated against the multi-national company initially in the Courts in the United States of America and later in the District Court at Bhopal in Suit No. 113 of 1986. It would
suffice to refer to the order dated 4 April, 1988 of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh
which, in modification of the interlocutory order dated 17 December, 1987 made by the learned District Judge,
granted an interim compensation of Rs.250 crores.
the Union of India and the Union Carbide Corporation appealed against that
Court by its order dated 14
February, 1989 made in
those appeals directed that there be an overall settlement of the claims in the
suit, for 470 million US dollars and termination of all civil and criminal
proceedings. The opening words of the order said:
given our careful consideration for these several days to the facts and
circumstances of the case placed before us by the parties in these proceedings,
including the pleadings of the parties, the mass of data placed before us, the
material relating to the proceedings in the Courts in the United States of
America, the offers and counter-offers made between the parties at different
stages 132 during the various proceedings, as well as the complex issues of law
and fact raised before us and the submission made thereon, and in particular
the enormity of human suffering occasioned by the Bhopal Gas disaster and the
pressing urgency to provide immediate and substantial relief to victims of the
disaster, we are of opinion that the case is pre-eminently fit for an overall
settlement between the parties covering all litigations, claims, rights and
liabilities related to and arising out of the disaster ..... " (Emphasis
Supplied) It appears to us that the reasons that persuaded this Court to make
the order for settlement should be set-out, so that those who have sought a
review might be able effectively to assist the Court in satisfactorily dealing
with the prayer for a review. The statement of the reasons is not made with any
sense of finality as to the infallibility of the decision; but with an open
mind to be able to appreciate any tenable and compelling legal or factual
infirmities that may be brought out, calling for remedy in Review under Article
137 of the Constitution.
points on which we propose to set-out brief reasons are the following:
How did this Court arrive at the sum of 470 million US dollars for an over-all
settlement? (b) Why did the Court consider this sum of 470 million US dollars
as 'just, equitable and reasonable'? (c) Why did the Court not pronounce on
certain important legal questions of far reaching importance said to arise in
the appeals as to the principles of liability of monolithic, economically
entrenched multi-national companies operating with inherently dangerous
technologies in the developing countries of the third world--questions said to
be of great contemporary relevance to the democracies of the third-world? There
is yet another aspect of the Review pertaining to the part of the settlement
which terminated the criminal proceedings. The questions raised on the point in
the Review-petitions, prima facie, merit consideration and we should,
therefore, abstain from saying anything which might tend to pre-judge this
issue one way or the other.
The basic consideration motivating the conclusion of the settlement was the
compelling need for urgent relief. The suffering of the victims has been
intense and unrelieved.
of persons who pursued their own occupations for an humble and honest living
have been rendered destitute by this ghastly disaster. Even after four years of
litigation, basic questions of the fundamentals of the law as to liability of
the Union Carbide Corporation and the quantum of damages are yet being debated.
These, of course, are important issues which need to be decided. But, when
thousands of innocent citizens were in near destitute conditions, without
adequate subsistential needs of food and medicine and with every coming morrow
haunted by the spectre of death and continued agony, it would be heartless
abstention, if the possibilities of immediate sources of relief were not
explored. Considerations of excellence and niceties of legal principles were
greatly over-shadowed by the pressing problems of very survival for a large
number of victims.
Law's delays are, indeed, proverbial. It has been the unfortunate bane of the
judicial process that even ordinary cases, where evidence consists of a few
documents and the oral testimony of a few witnesses, require some years to realise
the fruits of litigation. This is so even in cases of great and unquestionable
urgency such as fatal accident actions brought by the dependents. These are
hard realities. The present case is one where damages are sought on behalf of
the victims of a mass disaster and, having regard to the complexities and the
legal questions involved, any person with an unbiased vision would not miss the
time consuming prospect for the course of the litigation in its sojourn through
the various courts, both in India and later in United States.
indeed a matter for national introspection that public response to this great
tragedy which affected a large number of poor and helpless persons limited
itself to the expression of understandable anger against the industrial
enterprise but did not channel itself in any effort to put together a public
supported relief fund so that the victims were not left in distress, till the
final decision in the litigation. It is well known that during the recent
drought in Gujarat, the devoted efforts of public
spirited persons mitigated, in great measure, the loss of cattle-wealth in the
near famine conditions that prevailed.
Court, considered it a compelling duty, both judicial and humane, to secure
immediate relief to the victims.
doing so, the Court did not enter upon any forbidden ground. Indeed, efforts
had 134 earlier been made in this direction by Judge Keenan in the United States and by the learned District Judge
this Court did was in continuation of what had already been initiated. Even at
the opening of the arguments in the appeals, the Court had suggested to learned
counsel on both sides to reach a just and fair settlement. Again, when counsel
met for re-scheduling of the hearings the suggestion was reiterated. The
response of learned counsel on both sides was positive in attempting a
settlement, but they expressed a certain degree of uneasiness and scepticism at
the prospects of success in view of their past experience of such negotiations
when, as they stated, there had been uninformed and even irresponsible
criticism of the attempts at settlement. The learned Attorney General submitted
that even the most bona fide, sincere and devoted efforts at settlement were
likely to come in for motivated criticism.
Court asked learned counsel to make available the particulars of offers and
counter offers made on previous occasions for a mutual settlement. Learned
counsel for both parties furnished particulars of the earlier offers made for
an overall settlement and what had been considered as a reasonable basis in
that behalf. The progress made by previous negotiations was graphically
indicated and these documents form part of the record. Shri Nariman stated that
his client would stand by its earlier offer of Three Hundred and Fifty Million
US dollars and also submitted that his client had also offered to add
appropriate interest, at the rates prevailing in the U.S.A., to the sum of 350
million US dollars which raised the figure to 426 million US dollars.
stated that his client was of the view that amount was the highest it could go upto.
In regard to this offer of 426 million US dollars the learned Attorney-General submitted
that he could not accept this offer. He submitted that any sum less than 500
million US dollars would not be reasonable. Learned counsel for both parties
stated that they would leave it to the Court to decide what should be the
figure of compensation. The range of choice for the Court in regard to the
figure was, therefore, between the maximum of 426 million US dollars offered by
Shri Nariman and the minimum of 500 million US dollars suggested by the learned
these circumstances, the Court examined the prima facie material as to the
basis of quantification of a sum which, having regard to all the circumstances
including the prospect of delays inherent in the judicial-process in India and
thereafter in the matter of domestication of the decree in the United States
for the purpose of execution and directed that 470 million US dollars, which
upon immediate payment 135 and with interest over a reasonable period, pending
actual distribution amongst the claimants, would aggregate very nearly to 500
million US dollars or its rupee equivalent of approximately Rs.750 crores which
the learned Attorney General had suggested, be made the basis of the
the parties accepted this direction.
settlement proposals were considered on the premise that Government had the
exclusive statutory authority to represent and act on behalf of the victims and
neither counsel had any reservation as to this. The order was also made on the
premise that the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of
Claims) Act, 1985 was a valid law. In the event the Act is declared void in the
pending proceedings challenging its validity, the order dated 14, February,
1989 would require to be examined in the light of that decision.
should make it clear that if any material is placed before this Court from
which a reasonable inference is possible that the Union Carbide Corporation
had, at any time earlier, offered to pay any sum higher than an out-right down
payment of US 470 million dollars, this Court would straightaway initiate suo motu
action requiring the concerned parties to show cause why the order dated 14
February, 1989 should not be set aside and the parties relegated to their
respective original positions.
next question is as to the basis on which this Court considered this sum to be
a reasonable one. This is not independent of its quantification, the idea of
reasonableness for the present purpose is necessarily a broad and general
estimate in the context of a settlement of the dispute and not on the basis of
an accurate assessment by adjudication. The question is how good or reasonable
it is as a settlement, which would avoid delays, uncertainties and assure
immediate payment. The estimate, in the very nature of things, cannot share the
accuracy of an adjudication.
again one of the important considerations was the range disclosed by the offers
and counter offers which was between 426 million US dollars and 500 million US
dollars. The Court also examined certain materials available on record
including the figures mentioned in the pleadings, the estimate made by the High
Court and also certain figures referred to in the course of the arguments.
are a large number of claims under the Act. In the very nature of the situation,
doubts that a sizeable number of them are either without any just basis or were
otherwise exaggerated could not 136 be ruled out. It was, therefore, thought
not unreasonable to proceed on some prima facie undisputed figures of cases of
death and of substantially compensatable personal injuries.
of the number of persons treated at the hospitals was an important indicator in
that behalf. This Court had no reason to doubt the bona fides of the figures
furnished by the plaintiff itself in the pleadings as to the number of persons
suffering serious injuries.
the order of the High Court and the admitted position on the plaintiff's own
side, a reasonable, prima facie, estimate of the number of fatal cases and
serious personal injury cases, was possible to be made. The High Court said:
..... In the circumstances, leaving a small margin for the possibility of some
of the claims relating to death and personal injuries made by the multitude of
claims before the Director of Claims of the State Government being spurious,
there is no reason to doubt that the figure furnished by the plaintiff Union of
India in its amended plaint can be safely accepted for the purpose of granting
the relief' of interim payment of damages. It has been stated by the plaintiff
Union of India that a total number of 2660 persons suffered agonising and
excruciating deaths and between 30,000 to 40,000 sustained serious injuries as
a result of the disaster ..... " (Emphasis supplied) There is no scope for
any doubt that the cases referred to as those of 'Serious injuries' include
both types of cases of permanent total and partial disabilities of various
degrees as also cases of temporary total or partial disabilities of different
degrees. The High Court relied upon the averments and claims in the amended
pleadings of the plaintiff, the Union of India, to reach this prima facie
in assessing the quantum of interim compensation the High Court did not adopt
the standards of compensation usually awarded in fatal-accidents-actions or personalinjury-actions
arising under the Motor Vehicles Act. It is well-known that in fatal-accidentactions
where children are concerned, the compensation awardable is in conventional
sums ranging from Rs.15,000 to Rs.30,000 in each case. In the present case a
large number of deaths was of children of very young age. Even in the case of
adults, according to the general run of damages in comparable cases, the
damages assessed on the 137 usual multiplier-method in the case of income
groups comparable to those of the deceased-persons, would be anywhere between
Rs.80,000 and Rs. 1,00,000.
the High Court discarded, and rightly, these ordinary standards which, if
applied, would have limited the aggregate of compensation payable in fatal cases
to a sum less than Rs.20 crores in all. The High Court thought it should adopt
the broader principle in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 1086.
Stressing the need to apply such a higher standard, the High Court said:
mentioned earlier, the measure of damages payable by the alleged tort-teaser as
per the nature of tort involved in the suit has to be correlated to the
magnitude and the capacity of the enterprises because such compensation must
have a deterrent effect .........
supplied) Applying these higher standards of compensation, the High Court
proceeded to assess damage in the following manner:
in mind, the above factors, in the opinion of this Court, it would not be
unreasonable to assume that if the suit proceeded to trial the plaintiff-Union
of India would obtain judgment in respect of the claims relating to deaths and
personal injuries at least in the following amounts: (a) Rs.2 lakhs in each
case of death: (b) Rs.2 lakhs in each case of total permanent disability; (c)
Rs.1 lakh in each case of permanent partial disablement and (d) Rs.50,000 in
each case of temporary partial disablement." (Emphasis supplied) Half of
these amounts were awarded as interim compensation.
amount of Rs.250 crores was awarded.
adopted by the High Court in regard to the number of fatal cases and cases of
serious personal injuries do not appear to have been disputed by anybody before
the High Court. These data and estimates of the High Court had a particular
significance in the settlement. Then again, it was not disputed before us that
the total number of fatal cases was about 3000 and of grievous and serious
personal injuries, as verifiable from the records of the hospitals of cases
treated 138 at Bhopal, was in the neighbourhood of 30,000. It would not be
unreasonable to expect that persons suffering serious and substantially
compensable injuries would have gone to hospitals for treatment. It would also
appear that within about 8 months of the occurrence, a survey had been conducted
for purposes of identification of cases of death and grievous and serious
injuries for purposes of distribution of certain ex gratia payments sanctioned
by Government. These figures were, it would appear, less than ten thousand.
these circumstances, as a rough and ready estimate, this Court took into
consideration the prima facie findings of the High Court and estimated the
number of fatal cases at 3000 where compensation could range from Rs.l lakh to
Rs.3 lakhs. This would account for Rs.70 crores, nearly 3 times higher than
what would, otherwise, be awarded in comparable casses in motor vehicles
has an inexorable finality about it. Human lives that have been lost were
precious and in that sense priceless and invaluable. But the law can compensate
the estate of a person whose life is lost by the wrongful act of another only
in the way of the law is equipped to compensate i.e.
monetary compensations calculated on certain well-recognised principles.
"Loss to the estate" which is the entitlement of the estate and the
'loss of dependancy' estimated on the basis of capitalised present-value
awardable to the heirs and dependants, are the main components in the
computation of compensation in fatal accident actions. But, the High Court in
estimating the value of compensation had adopted a higher basis.
as personal injury cases are concerned, about 30,000 was estimated as cases of
permanent total or partial disability. Compensation ranging from Rs.2 lakhs to
Rs.50,000 per individual according as the disability is total or partial and
degrees of the latter was envisaged.
alone would account for Rs.250 crores. In another 20,000 cases of temporary
total or partial disability compensation ranging from Rs. 1 lakh down to Rs.25,000
depending on the nature and extent of the injuries and extent and degree of the
temporary incapacitation accounting for a further allocation of Rs. 100 crores,
was envisaged. Again, there might be possibility of injuries of utmost severity
in which case even Rs.4 lakhs per individual might have to be considered. Rs.80
crores, additionally for about 2000 of such cases were envisaged. A sum of
Rs.500 crores approximately was thought of as allocable to the fatal cases and
42,000 cases of such serious personal injuries leaving behind in their trail
total or partial incapacitation either of permanent or temporary character.
was considered that some outlays would have to be made for specialised
institutional medical treatment for cases requiring such expert medical
attention and for rehabilitation and after care. Rs.25 crores for the creation
of such facilities was envisaged.
would leave another Rs.225 crores. It is true that in assessing the interim
compensation the High Court had taken into account only the cases of injuries
resulting in permanent or temporary disabilities--total--or partial--and had
not adverted to the large number of other claims, said to run into lakhs, filed
by other claimants.
cases of claims do not, apparently, pertain to serious cases of permanent or
temporary disabilities but are cases of a less serious nature, comprising
claims for minor injuries, loss of personal belongings, loss of live-stock etc.
for which there was a general allocation of Rs.225 crores. If in respect of
these claims allocations are made at Rs.20,000, Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 10,000 for
about 50,000 person or claims in each category--accounting for about one and
half lakhs more claims--the sums required would be met by Rs.225 crores.
at from another angle, if the corpus of Rs.750 crores along with the current
market rates of interest on corporate borrowings, of say 14% or 14 1/2 % is
spent over a period of eight years it would make available Rs. 150 crores each
year; or even if interest alone is taken, about Rs. 105 to 110 crores per year
could be spent, year-after year, perpetually towards compensation and relief to
court also took into consideration the general run of damages in comparable
accident claim cases and in cases under workmens compensation laws. The broad
allocations made are higher than those awarded or awardable in such claims.
apportionments are merely broad considerations generally guiding the idea of
reasonableness of the overall basis of settlement. This exercise is not a
predetermination of the quantum of compensation amongst the claimants either
individually or category-wise. No individual claimant shall be entitled to
claim a particular quantum of compensation even if his case is found to fall within
any of the broad categories indicated above. The determination of the actual
quantum of compensation payable to the claimants has to be done by the
authorities under the Act, on the basis of the facts of each case and without
reference to the hypothetical quantifications made only for purposes of an
overall view of the adequacy of the amount.
These are the broad and general assumptions underlying the concept of
'justness' of the determination of the quantum. If the total number of cases of
death or of permanent, total or partial, disabilities or of what may be called
'catastrophic' injuries is shown to be so large that the basic assumptions
underlying the settlement become wholly unrelated to the realities, the element
of 'justness' of the determination and of the 'truth' of its factual foundation
would seriously be impaired. The 'justness' of the settlement is based on these
assumptions of truth. Indeed, there might be different opinions on the
interpretation of laws or on questions of policy or even on what may be
considered wise or unwise; but when one speaks of justice and truth, these
words mean the same thing to all men whose judgment is uncommitted. Of Truth
and Justice, Anatole France said:
passes within herself a penetrating force unknown alike to error and falsehood.
I say truth and you must understand my meaning.
the beautiful words Truth and Justice need not be defined in order to be
understood in their true sense. They bear within them a shining beauty and a
heavenly light. I firmly believe in the triumph of truth and justice.
is what upholds me in times of trial ......" As to the remaining question,
it has been said that many vital juristic principles of great contemporary
relevance to the Third
World generally, and
to India in particular, touching problems
emerging from the pursuit of such dangerous technologies for economic gains by
multi-nationals arose in this case. It is said that this is an instance of lost
opportunity to this apex Court to give the law the new direction on vital
issues emerging from the increasing dimensions of the economic exploitation of
developing countries by economic forces of the rich ones. This case also, it is
said, concerns the legal limits to be envisaged, in the vital interests of the protection
of the constitutional rights of the citizenry, and of the environment, on the
permissibility of such ultra-hazardous technologies and to prescribe absolute
and deterrent standards of liability if harm is caused by such enterprises. The
prospect of exploitation of cheap labour and of captive-markets, it is said,
induces multi-nationals to enter into the developing countries for such
economic-exploitation and that this was eminently an appropriate case for a
careful assessment of the legal and Constitutional safeguards stemming from
these vital issues of great contemporary relevance.
issues and certain cognate areas of even wider significance 141 and the limits
of the adjudicative disposition of some of their aspects are indeed questions
of seminal importance.
culture of modern industrial technologies, which is sustained on processes of
such pernicious potentialities, in the ultimate analysis, has thrown open vital
and fundamental issues of technology-options. Associated problems of the adequacy
of legal protection against such exploitative and hazardous industrial
adventurism, and whether the citizens of the country are assured the protection
of a legal system which could be said to be adequate in a comprehensive sense
in such contexts arise. These, indeed, are issues of vital importance and this
tragedy, and the conditions that enabled it happen, are of particular concern.
chemical pesticide industry is a concomitant, and indeed, an integral part, of
the Technology of Chemical Farming. Some experts think that it is time to
return from the high-risk, resource-intensive, high-input, anti-ecological,
monopolistic 'hard' technology which feeds, and is fed on, its self-assertive
attribute, to a more human and humane, flexible, eco-conformable,
"soft" technology with its systemic-wisdom and opportunities for
human creativity and initiative. "Wisdom demands" says
Schumacher" a new orientation of science and technology towards the
organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful". The
other view stressing the spectacular success of agricultural production in the
new era of chemical farming, with highyielding strains, points to the
break-through achieved by the Green Revolution with its effective response to,
and successful management of, the great challenges of feeding the millions.
This technology in agriculture has given a big impetus to enterprises of
chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This, say its critics, has brought in its
trail its own serious problems. The technology-options before scientists and
planners have been difficult.
there is also need to evolve a national policy to protect national interests
from such ultra-hazardous pursuits of economic gains. Jurists, technologists
and other experts in Economics, environmentology, futurology, sociology and
public health etc. should identify areas of common concern and help in evolving
proper criteria which may receive judicial recognition and legal sanction.
aspect of this matter was dealt with by this Court in M.C. Mehta v. Union of
India, (supra) which marked a significant stage in the development of the law.
But, at the hearing there was more than a mere hint in the submissions of the
Union Carbide that in this case the law was altered with only the Union Carbide
Corporation in mind, and 142 was altered to its disadvantage even before the
case had reached this Court. The criticism of the Mehta principle, perhaps,
ignores the emerging postulates of tortious liability whose principal focus is
the social-limits on economic adventurism. There are certain things that a civilised
society simply cannot permit to be done to its members, even if they are
compensated for their resulting losses. We may note a passage in "Theories
of Compensation," R.E. Goodin:
Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 1989, P.
would, however, be wrong to presume that we as a society can do anything we
like to people, just so long as we compensate them for their losses. Such a
proposition would mistake part of the policy universe for the whole. The set of
policies to which it points--policies that are 'permissible' but only with
compensation'--is bounded on the one side by a set of policies that are
'permissible, even without compensation' and on the other side by a set of
policies that are 'impermissible, even with compensation'." But, in the
present case, the compulsions of the need for immediate relief to tens of
thousands of suffering victims could not, in our opinion, wait till these
questions, vital though they be, are resolved in the due course of judicial
proceedings. The tremendous suffering of thousands of persons compelled us to
move into the direction of immediate relief which, we thought, should not be
subordinated to the uncertain promises of the law, and when the assessment of
fairness of the amount was based on certain factors and assumptions not
disputed even by the plaintiff.
words in conclusion. A 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 the 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. Which view
is right, in the ultimate analysis, is to be judged by what it does to relieve
the undeserved suffering of thousands of innocent citizens of this country.
learned author said: Wallace Mendelson: Supreme Court Statecraft--The Rule of
Law and Men.
this imperfect legal setting we expect judges to clear 143 their endless
dockets, uphold the Rule of Law, 'and yet not utterly disregard our need for
the discretionary justice of Plato's philosopher king. Judges must be sometimes
cautious and sometimes bold. Judges must respect both the traditions of the
past and the convenience of the present........" But the course of the
decisions of courts cannot be reached or altered or determined by agitational
pressures. If a decision is wrong, the process of correction must be in a
manner recognised by law. Here, many persons and social action groups claim to
speak for the victims, quite a few in different voices. The factual allegations
on which they rest their approach are conflicting in some areas and it becomes
difficult to distinguish truth from false-hood and halftruth, and to
distinguish as to who speaks for whom.
all of those who invoke the corrective-processes in accordance with law shall
be heard and the court will do what the law and the course of justice requires.
The matter concerns the interests of a large number of victims of a mass
disaster. The Court directed the settlement with the earnest hope that it would
do them good and bring them immediate relief, for, tomorrow might be too late
for many of them. But the case equally concerns the credibility of, and the
public confidence in, the judicial process. If, owing to the pre-settlement
procedures being limited to the main contestants in the appeal, the benefit of
some contrary or supplemental information or material, having a crucial bearing
on the fundamental assumptions basic to the settlement, have been denied to the
Court and that, as a result, serious miscarriage of justice, violating the
constitutional and legal rights of the persons affected, has been occasioned,
it will be the endeavour of this Court to undo any such injustice. But that, we
reiterate, must be by procedures recognised by law. Those who trust this Court
will not have cause for despair.