ABSOLUTE LIABILITY

The case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[1] originated in the aftermath of oleum gas leak from Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. complex at Delhi. This gas leak occurred soon after the infamous Bhopal Gas Leak disaster and created a lot of panic in Delhi. The case lays down the principle of absolute liability and the concept of deep pockets. The Court said that though it is undoubtedly true that the petitioner could have applied for amendment of the writ petition so as to include a claim for compensation but merely because he did not do so, the applications for compensation cannot be thrown out. These applications for compensation are for enforcement of the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.

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On the question of developing a new doctrine to attach liability the court commented that if by reason of an accident occurring in such industry, persons die or are injured does the rule in Ryland’s v. Fletcher apply or is there any other principle on which the liability can be determined? Of course, this rule applies only to non-natural user of the land and it does not apply to certain exceptions like natural things on the land or where the accident is due to an act of God and an act of a stranger or the default of the person injured or where the thing which escapes is present by the consent of the person injured or in certain cases where there is statutory authority.  The Court held that the enterprise must be held to be under an obligation to provide that the hazardous or inherently dangerous activity in which it is engaged must be conducted with the highest standards of safety and if any harm results on account of such activity, the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate for such harm and it should be no answer to the enterprise to say that it had taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part. Likewise through the judgments of P.N. Bhagwati we got a new principle of “absolute liability” for the owners of the industries. It is an epoch making decision which open a new dimension in the field of legal liability in India.

[1] “M.C. Mehta And Anr vs Union Of India & Ors on 20 December, 1986”.

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Post Contributed By:

SOUMYA PRATIK DUTTA

Indian Institute of Technology

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