The judge hearing the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster case Thursday rejected a motion by Union Carbide Corp. that he disqualify himself, denying he had shown bias in ordering the company to pay $270 million in interim relief to victims.
Bhopal District Court Judge M.W. Deo, in a decision following daylong arguments on the motion filed May 6 by the U.S.-based multinational company, said there were "no grounds" either for the claim he was prejudiced or for him to transfer the case to another judge."Such a procedure is unheard of in trial courts in this country, where the normal procedure is to approach the high court for the transfer of a suit from the court of the district judge," he added.
Attorney General K. Parasaran agreed with Deo, asserting any disqualification motion should have been brought before a higher court.
Deo added, "At no stage was I biased," but he thanked Union Carbide for allowing him "introspection, which we Indians have ingrained in us by philosophical and cultural heritage, according to which prudence dictates equanimity in examining even our own life."
Union Carbide asked Deo to remove himself from the case for issuing an "arbitrary" and "perverse" order Dec. 17 directing the company to pay $270 million in interim relief to victims of history's worst industrial disaster.
The government says 2,998 people were killed and some 200,000 injured Dec. 3, 1984, when 40 tons of methyl isocyanate vaporized and spewed in a poisonous cloud from Union Carbide's now-defunct pesticide plant in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, 375 miles south of New Delhi.
Union Carbide opposed the interim relief order, charging it amounted to a judgment on its liability in the disaster, which it claims was caused by sabotage by a disgruntled employee, while the case is still in the pretrial stage.
Union Carbide appealed the directive for interim relief to the Madhya Pradesh High Court, but the court instead went beyond Deo's order - saying it did find "prima facie" evidence that the company was liable.
The court directed the company to pay $192 million in initial compensation for deaths and serious injuries, instead of the $270 million in interim relief which Deo had ordered.
Union Carbide is contesting the high court's order and the high court is scheduled to hear new arguments from the firm later this month.
The high court, meanwhile, already sent the case back to Deo to determine the final, overall damages for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives the government claims were affected by the disaster.