Vizag Gas Leak Misfortune: LG Polymers suffers “Absolute Liability” under Law

Introduction

The Visakhapatnam gas leak also known as Vizag Gas leak was an industrial mishap that occurred at the LG polymers chemical plant in R.R. Venkatapuram village nearby Gopalapatnam on the borders of Vishakhapatnam, Andra Pradesh, India, in the early morning of 7 May 2020. People of Gopalapatnam village (i.e. where the accident took place), complaint of irritation in eyes, breathlessness, nausea and rashes all over their bodies. Many people have fallen unconscious on the road while passing by that area where LG Polymer chemical plant is located. At least 11 people died out of which two were senior citizens and several children and moreover 5000 people fell sick after asked styrene gas leak from the chemical plant. Around 800 people were reportedly admitted to the hospital. Many ambulances, fire engines and police man rushed to the chemical plant plus thousands of people were also evacuated from the nearby villages. This styrene gas which was leaked from LG polymer plant was spread over a radius of 3 km i.e. covering around five villages near Visakhapatnam.

Connecting Indian Laws to this Tragedy

India follows the highest standard liability for an incident like this when a hazardous or dangerous substance used for industrial purposes leaks and causes harm to people such liability is known as Absolute and Strict liability. The principle of “absolute and strict liability” was formulated by the Supreme Court and was given in the judgment of the case “MC Mehta vs. Union of India in 1986 when the court was dealing with leaking of oleum gas at Shriram Foods and Fertilizers Industries plant in Delhi.” In regard to Absolute and Strict liability Justice PN Bhagwati of the Supreme Court has given these words “that if an enterprise is engaged in hazardous or eminently dangerous industry which may cause threat to health and safety of the person working in the factory and residing in the surrounding areas as an absolute liability and such industry will ensure all the safety measures and take responsibility when any such accident took place due to its hazardous nature”.

How the Mishap happened?

The plant was shut down for the period of last 40 days due to coronavirus lock down and minimum staff was deployed inside. The gas leaked from two 5000 tonne tanks, which have been abandoned since March due to COVID-19 lock down it led to a chemical reaction and production of heat inside those tanks which caused the leakage. And hence it was believed that this incident occurred when the plant’s employees were preparing to reopen it due to some recent relaxation announced by the government.

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History of LG Polymers Factory

LG polymers factory was initially established in 1961 as Hindustan Polymers to produce polystyrene. Later it was merged with MCDowell and Co of the UB group in 1978 and was and then it was taken by South Korea based LG Chem 1997 which renamed it as LG Polymers. The company was set up with the objective manufacturing general purpose polystyrene and high impact polystyrene, extendable polystyrene and engineering plastic compounds.

What is Polystyrene and Styrene?

Polystyrene is a versatile plastic which is used to make a variety of consumer products. It is a hard solid plastic which is used for food packaging and laboratory ware etc.  And when polystyrene is combined with various additives or other plastic then it is used to make appliances, electronics, automobile parts, toys, gardening ports and equipment and much more. But the LG polymers plant makes polystyrene products according to the things which are mentioned in its MOA. Some of the things which LG polymer produces are electric fan blades, cups and cutlery and containers for cosmetic products such as make up. Now let us discuss about Styrene, Styrene is used to make insulation pipes, automobile parts, printing cartridges and copy machine toners and other stuff. This styrene gas affect the central nervous system, throat skin eyes and other parts of the body and it is highly flammable gas which releases a poisonous substance when it burns. The expert says that when any person come in the contact with this styrene gas when it is burning then he shall be given the medical treatment immediately because it will cause nausea and dizziness when inhaled.

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Judiciary’s Role

As India’s follows the principle of “Absolute Liability ” thus it means that if there is an accident at plant like LG Polymers in Vishakhapatnam which involves the manufacture or use of hazardous substance likes Styrene Gas then the company which runs the plant has to make sure that it compensates everyone who suffers any kind of harm. The Supreme Court also refused to interfere with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) moreover the NGT also directed LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd.to deposit ₹50 crore for damage caused by gas leak at Visakhapatnam Plant, Andhra Pradesh, India.

The above compensations will only be awarded by the courts. But LG polymers will be responsible to provide payments to any of the victim who claims under the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 the advantage of this is that the victim could get the payouts quicker than the court and victim can still approach the court for the higher compensation.

Government’s Role

Chief minister of the Visakhapatnam directed collector to ensure proper medical care for the affected people and after visiting the city he has announced to give ₹ 1 crore to the families of each deceased person. The government has also decided to send 500 kg of Para- tertiary catheol (PTBC) maker so that it can be airlifted by the Andhra Pradesh government to neutralize the gas leakage hence the government has taken its full initiative to take the situation under control on their part.

Conclusion

The present circumstances demand for absolute liability because employees who were preparing to reopen the factory will be compensated for their loss. It is the company’s duty to ensure its employees have a safe working environment, especially when the company is dealing with hazardous substance. India learnt an important lesson from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in that case Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) must be held liable. Later, it was found that it was very difficult to fix liability on officials of the Union Carbide Corporation even though there was a clear evidence of neglect on their part and allowing the deadly gas to escape. And even when this situation was fixed it became very difficult to have them extradited to India and to be tried before Indian Judiciary. In Vizag Gas incident the Indian Company LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd is owned by foreign South Korean company but in such cases, the people from Indian Company will only be tried due to technicalities in the law, the parent company will be de-solved from any liability.

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Author: Umang Bhatla,
Delhi Metropolitan Education affiliated to GGSIPU, 3rd Yr.

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