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VIZAG GAS LEAK: An Absolute Liability

Absolute one which, without any single exception and in all circumstances, must be laid on the wrongdoer. It does not care to see any defending explanations whatsoever provided by anyone.

On 7th May 2020, a poisonous gas, Styrene, reportedly leaked from a storage tank in a polymer factory near Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, which killed 11 people and affected more than a thousand. Styrene, a toxic organic compound becomes lethal when reacts with air. Also, The polymer factory, LG Polymers, has been working since 1997 without valid environmental clearances. May 7, 2020 was reminiscent of the Oleum gas leak case of Delhi, 1986, where the gas leaked from a fertilizer plant of Shriram Food and Fertilizers Ltd. causing severe damages to people. The Supreme Court than in the case of M.C. Mehta v. UOI evolved the principle of Absolute Liability for hazardous industries stating that the Strict Liability principle is not adequate in modern times.

The National Green Tribunal on 8th May, imposed on LG Polymers the principle of ‘strict liability’. “Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise engaged in the hazardous or inherently dangerous industry”, the Tribunal observed. It also directed LG Polymers to deposit Rs. 50 Crores with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, in connection to this incident.

Since the NGT has considered it apt to apply the principle of Strict Liability, the factory can flawlessly take this opportunity to escape this legal principle as it provides for some exceptions:-

1. The Plaintiff’s own fault;

2. An act of God;

3. Act of Third-party; or

4. If the hazardous activity was being carried out with the consent of the Plaintiff (Volenti non-fit injuria).

These exceptions bring home an immense pleasure to the factory as it can raise its hands in the shadow of the above mentioned. Sure to say that this principle will make the factory an escapist.

The NGT must have invoked the Absolute Liability principle in this case. Even the purpose of evolving this principle by SC has its plinth on the fact that it considered the Strict Liability principle ‘woefully inadequate’ to deal with the advancement of science and technology. It became the need of the hour to come for such solutions where the rights of plaintiffs must not be played with. The notion behind the SC ruling was to ensure that the profit-oriented industrial enterprises involved in hazardous activities must not reckon that they can escape their liability by the virtue of exceptions of Strict Liability. Incidents of such capability of destruction and of such gravity must be dealt in a manner, which can speak for its own inescapable nature. Damages and loss caused by these incidents warrant a rightful remedy not on paper or judicial minds but for those who have been racked with pain.

The NGT while applying the Strict Liability principle has erred in accomplishing the purpose of SC and in doing so it has also set a wrong precedence. It must reconsider and review its order for justice to be served.


Saloni Singhvi is an Advocate at the Rajasthan High Court.

You can Contact them at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/saloni-singhvi-a9603a112

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