Strict vs Absolute Liability Principle
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Recently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) found LG Polymers prima facie liable under the strict liability principle for the Vizag gas leak.
- However, according to the lawyers, the term absolute liability principle should have been used instead.
- The NGT directed the company to deposit an initial amount of ₹50 crore and formed a fact-finding committee.
- The use of the term strict liability has been questioned by the lawyers because it was made redundant in India by the Supreme Court in 1987.
- Strict Liability Principle:
- Under it, a party/company is not liable and need not pay compensation if a hazardous substance escapes its premises by accident or by an ‘act of God’ (Force Majeure) among other circumstances.
- Absolute Liability Principle:
- Under it, a party/company in a hazardous industry cannot claim any exemption. It has to mandatorily pay compensation, whether or not the disaster was caused by its negligence.
- The National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 incorporates the absolute liability principle.
- Section 17 of the act mandates that the Tribunal should apply the absolute liability principle even if the disaster caused is an accident.
- A hazardous enterprise is liable even if the disaster is an accident and not caused by the negligence of the company.
- The Supreme Court, in the M.C. Mehta vs Union of India 1987, found strict liability principle inadequate to protect citizens’ rights and replaced it with the absolute liability principle.
- This judgement came on the Oleum gas leak case of Delhi in 1986.
- Oleum gas leaked from a fertiliser plant of Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. complex at Delhi, causing damages to several people.
- Oleum or fuming sulfuric acid refers to solutions of various compositions of sulfur trioxide in sulfuric acid or sometimes more specifically to disulfuric acid (also known as pyrosulfuric acid).
- The court found that strict liability which was evolved in an English case called Rylands versus Fletcher, 1868, provided companies with several exemptions from assuming liability.
- Absolute liability, on the other hand, provides them with no defence or exemptions and is part of Article 21 (Right to Life).
- Article 21 declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
- The court wanted corporations to be made fully liable for future undeserved suffering of innocent citizens and held that a hazardous enterprise has an absolute non-delegable duty to the community.
- That time, India was still under the shock of the Bhopal gas tragedy, 1984.
- Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide in the capital city of Madhya Pradesh.