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Comprehensive Study-Absolute liability on hazardous Gas Leakage

According to blacks law Dictionary absolute liability refers to, Liability that does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm, but that is based on the breach of an absolute duty to make something safe. Strict liability most often applies either to ultra-h1azardous activities or in products-liability cases. Also termed absolute liability; liability without fault.

As per the concept of the Absolute liability, a person can be completely held for the fault he has made without any condition. This applies to cases of hazardous gas leakage. Therefore, a company in a hazardous industry cannot claim any exemption. It has to mandatorily pay compensation, whether or not the disaster was caused by its negligence. A hazardous enterprise has an absolute non-delegable duty to the community.

Concept of Absolute Liability for hazardous gas leakage
The concept of Absolute Liability is very similar to as of strict liability. According to the concept of Absolute liability, an individual is held completely liable for any fault without any exception or limitation. The concept serves the purpose of making anyone absolutely liable for the fault and imposition of high retraction.

In the Case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[1] and Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India[2] the Hon'ble Supreme Court delivered the concept of Absolute Liability in India. Based on the principle of strict liability laid down in the case of Ryland v. Fletcher, the Supreme Court widened the scope of strict liability and laid the principle of Absolute liability.

Strict liability also is known as the rule of No-fault liability[3] is explained by Blackburn J. who stated that:
We think that the rule of the law is that the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.[4]

Section 17 of The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 also explains the Absolute liability the ‘no-fault principle’ even if the disaster caused is an accident.[5]
Bhopal Gas Holocaust (Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India) ~ 1984
In the year 1934, Union of India incorporated with the American industrial giant Union Carbide. A new pesticide plant was set up by UCIL in a densely populated area of Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) in the year 1970.

There were faults at the safety measures in the pesticide plant and even after repetitive complaints UCIL kept on ignoring it. On the night of 02-03 December 1984 approximately 40 tonnes of Methyl Iso-cyanate (MIC) gas got mixed with water leading to an exothermic reaction and the gas escaped the plant and in following few hours spread all over the city of Bhopal and adjoining areas. This took the lives of around 3,000 people instantly and later the death toll rose to 20,000 while more than 6,00,000 were left injured. And still, the people of Bhopal are suffering because of the ghastly catastrophe that happened due to the negligence of a multinational company.

The Supreme Court ordered Union Carbide to pay US $470 million against all the destruction that the leak of MIC gas from the industrial premise. Pathak j. applying the polluters' pay principle decided the quantum of compensation to be US $470 Million.
Oleum Gas Leak Case (M.C. Mehta v. Union of India) ~ 1985
The petition sought closure and relocation of the Shriram Industries, which use to manufacturer hazardous substances in a very densely populated area of Kriti Nagar, Delhi. There was a leak in one of its unit which cost the life of an advocate and affected the health of several others.

The incident dated on December, 4th 1985 just after a year later to Bhopal gas disaster.

The case was dealt with Chief Justice Bhagwati showed his deep concern for the safety of the people of the Delhi from the leakage of hazardous substances like – oleum gas. He stated:
If any harm results on account of such activity, the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate for such harm irrespective of the fact that the enterprise had taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part.

The Court directed that Shriram industries deposit Rs 20 lakhs and to issue a bank guarantee for Rs. 15 lakhs for payment of compensation claims of the victims of oleum gas if there was any escape of chlorine gas within three years from the date of the order resulting in death or injury to any workmen or public. The quantum of regulating the compensation was by the District Judge, Delhi. Therefore, the court made the industry absolutely liable and compensation to be paid as when the injury was proved without requiring the industry to be present in the case.

Vizag Gas Leak ~ 2020
Another Industrial accident occurred in the evening of 8th May 2020 in the LG Polymers chemical plant which is situated in a village in the outskirts of Vishakhapatnam, Andra Pradesh. The technical glitch in the computer which maintained the temperature of the styrene monomer exceeded the safe temperature levels and lead to vaporise the gas. Around 13 people died and around 30 are in severe condition. And 1,000 are said to be exposed to the gas.

A petition was filed in National Green Tribunal and it ordered LG Polymers to deposit 50 Crores with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam. The NGT observed in the order that the situation attracted the principle of strict liability.

  1. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1987 SCR (1) 819
  2. Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India, AIR 1992 SC 248
  3. Dr.S.K.Kapoor on Law of Torts 7th Edition pg.272
  4. The Rule in Rylands v. Fletcher. Part I by Bohlen, Francis H. (1911)
  5. Section 17 of National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
    Liability to pay relief or compensation in certain cases. -
    (1) Where death of, or injury to, any person (other than a workman) or damage to any property or environment has resulted from an accident or the adverse impact of an activity or operation or process, under any enactment specified in Schedule I, the person responsible shall be liable to pay such relief or compensation for such death, injury or damage, under all or any of the heads specified in Schedule II, as may be determined by the Tribunal.
    (2) If the death, injury or damage caused by an accident or the adverse impact of an activity or operation or process under any enactment specified in Schedule I cannot be attributed to any single activity or operation or process but is the combined or resultant effect of several such activities, operations and processes, the Tribunal may, apportion the liability for relief compensation amongst those responsible for such activities, operations and processes on an equitable basis.
    (3) The Tribunal shall, in case of an accident, apply the principle of no fault.

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