Bhopal gas tragedy: Out-of-court settlement records missing?

The crucial file containing developments, which had led to the settlement in February 1989, and details of views expressed by officials and file notings on it "could not be located" in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, an RTI reply has revealed.

On the intervening night of December two and three, 1984, lethal gas methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant of Union Carbide in Bhopal, killing over 15,000 people.

In the 1989 settlement, the Union Carbide agreed to pay USD 470 million which included insurance along with interest in a full and final settlement of its civil and criminal liability in the worst industrial disaster.

An RTI applicant had sought from the External Affairs Ministry all documents relating to the settlement. The Ministry did not send any reply initially. It was only after the Central Information Commission issued a show-cause notice, the Cabinet Secretariat said the application had been "erroneously" referred to it.

The Cabinet Secretariat forwarded the matter to Chemicals and Fertilisers for a reply as the matter was closely related to that Ministry.

"It is informed that the relevant documents related to the out-of-court settlement done with Union Carbide Corporation, as required by you, could not be located in the Department despite efforts," the Ministry of Chemicals said in its reply. It added that documents may be obtained from Supreme Court Registry.

The out-of-court settlement of 1989 had come under heavy criticism from all quarters. As against the demand of compensation of Rs 3,900 crore, the government had settled only Rs 615 crore.

"The entire House, cutting across party lines, should adopt a resolution to scrap the 1989 agreement and send back the waste material to the US," Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj had said during a debate in the House in August.

Demanding that Parliament pass a resolution scrapping the 1989 out-of-court settlement between Union Carbide and the government, she said what was witnessed in Bhopal was "a case of corporate manslaughter" and not of "mere negligence".

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