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Rylands v. Fletcher To Vizag Gas Leak: Archaic Rule Of Strict Liability

The National Green Tribunal, in the miserable incident of the Vizag gas leak in which Styrene gas leaked from a polymer plant at Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, ordered LG Polymers to deposit 50 crores as an initial amount.[1] The company was found guilty prima facie under the obsolete law of strict liability. The rule of strict liability is now considered not adequate, as it is the era of industrialization and globalization and certainly requires fair punishments and compensation. Thousands of factories, big and small, are set up every day, hence stricter laws governing such factories is need of the hour. Some lawyers contemplate punishment under strict liability as inadequate, when the vogue is of Absolute liability.

STRICT LIABILITY v. ABSOLUTE LIABILITY


The rule of strict liability was decided in 1868 by the House of Lords in the case of Rylands vs Fletcher,[2] which transformed the then laws into a new era of Tort law. It is ruled in cases where the use of land is non-natural, with the thing being hazardous, which escapes, leading to damages [3]. Strict Liability comes with various defenses acting as the savior of defendants concerned. If the act was either plaintiff’s own fault or an act of a third party or an act of god or volenti non-fit injuria, the defendant can escape from liability by relying on such defense.


On the contrary, the rule of Absolute Liability was laid down in the case of MC Mehta vs Union of India,[4] decided in 1987. This oleum gas leak incident was another upend in the realm of tort law. This law emerged when the country was yet healing from the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984,[5] where Methyl Isocyanate gas leaked leading to dreadful sufferings. The laws were at the crossroads to ameliorate. Consolidation of laws after a series of incidents led to the Judgement of no-fault liability. Under the rule of Absolute liability, the defendants are liable even if the gas or the hazardous substance didn’t escape unlike Rule of Strict Liability where the escape of such hazardous thing is necessary.

DEVELOPMENTS


Aftermath of Bhopal gas tragedy was The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985,[6] under which powers were conferred to the Central Government to look after the claims and check for the best advantages of claimants. This act of central government showed the need for the consolidation of laws governing these types of incidents, leading to the rule of Absolute liability. The developments didn’t stop with the emergence of no-fault liability but followed until the passing of the Public Insurance Act, 1991[7]. Under this act, the victims are liable for compensation under policy cover insurance. If any hazardous substance causes death or injury to a person they are insured to receive compensation. This was the very need of the hour but certainly needs more amendments now. The compensation if inadequate is not fair for the victims.

Currently, the families of victims suffering, are entitled to maximum compensation of Rs. 25000, with an additional cover of a maximum of Rs. 12500. If the victim suffers through permanent disability, he will be provided with Rs. 1000 monthly[8]. The compensation amount is as scanty as it sounds. We certainly need more modifications leading to adequate compensation for the victims and their families.

References:

[1] Shinjini Ghosh, Visakhapatnam gas leak: NGT directs LG Polymers India to deposit ₹50 crore, The Hindu, May 08, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/visakhapatnam-gas-leak-ngt-directs-lg-polymers-india-to-deposit-50-crore/article31532759.ece

[2] Rylands v Fletcher (1868) LR 3 HL 330

[3] Rebecca Furtado, Concept of strict liability and absolute liability, July 05, 2016, https://blog.ipleaders.in/concept-strict-liability-absolute-liability/

[4] M.C. Mehta And Anr vs Union Of India & Ors 1987 SCR (1) 819

[5] Union Carbide Corporation vs Union Of India AIR SC 273

[6] The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, ACT NO. 21 OF 1985 [ 29th March 1985.]

[7] Public Insurance Act, 1991, ACT NO. 6 OF1991 [22nd January 1991.]

[8] https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1960/1/A1991-06.pdf

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Aryan Anand is currently studying in 1st year (BBA LLB) at Chanakya National Law University, Patna. You can contact him athttps://www.linkedin.com/in/aryan-anand-217b481a6

Editor: Jayant Upadhyay

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