MC MEHTA VS UNION OF INDIA (Shriram food and fertilizer case)
Full case name-M.C. Mehta vs Union of India &ors.
Date of Judgement-20 December ,1986
Citations- 1987 SCR (1) 819
Case opinions- Majority C.J. Bhagwati
INTRODUCTION TO THE CASE
- A writ petition was filed by M.C. Mehta a social activist lawyer ,he sought closure on Shriram Industries as it was engaged in manufacturing of hazardous substances and located in a densely populated area of kirti nagar
- While the petition was pending on 4 and 6 december 1985,there was a leakage of oleum gas leak from one of its units which caused the death of an advocate and affected the health of several others.The incident took place on December 4 1985
- Just after one year from the Bhopal gas disaster a large number of persons -both amongst the workmen and public were affected.This incident also reminded of the Bhopal gas Holocaust.
- Mc Mehta filed a PIL under Article 21 and 32 of the Constitution and sought closure and relocation of the Shriram Caustic Chlorine and Sulphuric Acid Plant which was located in a thickly populated area of Delhi.
- Factories were closed down immediately as Inspector of Factories and Commissioner issued separate orders dated December 8 &24 1985.
- This incident took place only a few months before Environment(Protection) act came into force,thus became a guiding force for having a effective law like this.
This case dealt with 3 issues :
- Scope of article 32
- Rule of absolute liability or Rylands vs fletchers to be followed
- Issue of compensation.
SCOPE OF ARTICLE 32: Article 32 provides the right to Constitutional remedies which means that a person has right to move to Supreme Court for getting his fundamental rights protected.While Supreme court has power to issue writs under article 32,High courts have been given same powers
Under article 226.
ABSOLUTE LIABILTY OR RYLANDS VS FLETCHER :
- Regarding the measure of liability of an industry engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous activity in a case of an accident the court examined whether the rule in Rylands vs Fletcher would be applicable in such cases.
- This rule laid down if a person who brings on to his land and collects and keep there anything likely to do harm and such thing escapes and does change to another he is liable to compensate for damage caused
- This liability is thus strict and it’s no defence that the thing escaped without the persons wilful act ,default or neglect
- The exceptions to this rule is that it doesnot apply to things naturally on the land or where the escape is due to an act of god,act of stranger or the default of the person or where there is a statutory authority
- The court held that the rule in Rylands vs Fletcher will all of its exceptions is not applicable for the industries engaged in hazardous activities.
- Supremecourt expounded that this rule evolved in the 19th century at a time when all these developments of science and technology has not taken place .We have to evolve new principles and lay down new norms which would adequately deal with the new problems which arise in highly industrialized economy.
- The court introduced new no fault liability .An industry engaged in hazardthatous activities which poses a potential danger to health and safety to the persons working and residing near owes an absolute and non-delegable duty to the community to ensure that no harm results to anyone.
- Such industry must conduct it’s activities with highest standards of safety and if any harm results,the industry must be absolutely liabe to compensate for such harm.
- It should be no answer to industry to say that it has taken all reasonable care and that harm occurred without negligence on its part
- Since the persons harm would not be in position to isolate the process of operation from the hazardous preparation of the substance that caused the harm,the industry must be held absolutely liable for causing such harm as a part of the social cost of carrying on the hazardous activities.
- This principle is also sustainable on the ground that the industry alone has the resource to discover and guard against hazards or dangers and to provide warning against potential hazards.
Issue of Compensation:
- It was held that the measure of compensation must be correlated to the magnitude and capacity of the industry so that the compensation will have a deterrent effect.
- The larger and more prosperous by the industry, the greater will be the amount of compensation payable of it.
- The court didn’t order payment of compensation of victims since it left open the question due to lack of time to adjudicate whether Shriram,a private corporation was a state or authority which could be subjected to discipline of article 21.
- SC held that its power under article 32 is not restricted to preventive measures, but also remedial measures when rights are violated
- It also held that in the case of industries engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous activities, absolute liability was to be followed.
- Finally it also said that the amount of compensation must be correlated to the magnitude and capacity of the industry so that will be deterrent.
Author: vedant bajaj,
sls nagpur/1st yr ballb student