The word ‘Environment’ sum up the total of water, air and land inter-relationships among themselves and also with the human being, other living organisms and material goods. It comprises all the physical and biological surroundings and their connections. Environmental studies give an approach towards understanding the environment of our globe and the impact of human life upon the environment and vice-versa. The Environment is actually universal in nature and it is a multidisciplinary subject counting physics, chemistry, history, geology, geography, soil science and biotechnology, etc1. Everyone is affected by the Global warming, depletion of ozone layer, loss of diversity, deforestation, disposal of hazardous wastes. Environment is visualized in different ways and with different angles by different group of people but it may be safely argued that ‘Environment is an inseparable whole and is constituted by the interacting systems of physical, biological, and cultural elements which are interlinked individually2. Social science have borrowed the concept of ecology from biology. As a branch of biology, ecology is the study of the relationship between the living beings and their environment. On one hand man is born in environment and establishes harmony with environment. On other hand man tries to control his environment and change it according to his requirements. Therefore it requires an understanding of environment of which a man is part of. Environmental knowledge is an integrative knowledge whose fundamental aspects have a direct significance to every part of the planet. Its main characteristics include providing new dimension to nation’s security through conversation, protection, management and maintenance of environment, controlling and managing environmental pollution to permissible limit, maintenance and management of biological diversity and much more are mentioned. Therefore this research paper highlights about environment laws liability and the principle of no fault.
THE RULE OF STRICT LIABILITY:
Strict liability is very important for commercials and other activities that have the possibility of causing horrifying damages. Some activities may be so damaging that law has to be imposed for consequences occurred. For example, the law may sometimes charge penalty even if damage occurs without any individual’s fault. Strict liability principle is very important in the field of law of torts. The underlying principle of compensation in torts generally depends on the extent of the precaution taken by the individual’s3. The law makes people pay compensation for the damage even though that was not caused by people. In other words, people have to pay compensation to the victims who were affected, even when they took all necessary precautions. There are certain case that attracts this liability such as –
o Bhopal gas tragedy4:
It was India’s first and worst major industrial disaster, where more than 27 tonnes of Methyl isocyanate and other deadly gases turned Bhopal into gas chamber. The disaster resulted in the death of at least around or more than15,000 people and there were serious injuries and diseases to many people which affected over 600,000 workers and nearby inhabitants.
The Supreme Court laid the rule of absolute liability in preference to the strict liability. The defence of the UCC on the grounds of damage was rejected and the principle laid by the Supreme Court in the M.C.Mehta v. Union of India5was followed. The Rule clearly had that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and it harm results to anyone on account of accident in the operation of such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting, the enterprise is strictly and absolute liable to compensate to all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions which operate vis-à-vis the tortious principle of strict liability under the rule of Ryland’s v. Fletcher.
It was assumed that the victims would be getting compensation, therefore all the victims who were working or handling of the hazardous substance should get quick relief through insurance, and therefore ‘Public Liability Insurance Act 1991’6 was passed.
The Strict Liability is also called as ‘No Fault Liability’, this is opposite to the general principle of negligence in torts where a person can be held liable for the commission of a tort only when the plaintiff can prove negligence on his part and the defendant himself is unable to disapprove it.
RYLAND’S VS. FLETCHER7:
The defendant (Fletcher) an owner of a mill with an aim to improve water supply for his mill employed independent and efficient engineers for the construction of a reservoir. During their revealing of the ground underneath, they came across some stick and passages bur chose not to block them. Post construction of the reservoir, when they filed it with water, all the water flowed through the unblocked old stick and passages to the plaintiff (Ryland’s) coal mines on the adjoining land and the overburden them completely. The engineers kept the defendant in the dark about the occurrence of these incidents. On a suit filed before the court by the plaintiff against the defendant, the court though ruled out negligence about the defendant’s part on the other hand held him liable under the rule of strict liability. Any amount of carefulness on his part is not going to save him where his liability falls under the scope of “No fault Liability”.
EXCEPTIONS OF STRICT LAIBILITY:
Strict liability evolved from the Rylands v Fletcher case in the English court in the year 1868. This principle clearly states that a person, who keeps hazardous substances in his premises, is responsible for the fault if that substance escapes in any manner and causes damages. This principle stands true if there was no negligence on the side of the person keeping it and the burden of proof always lies on the defendant to prove how he is not liable. However there are certain exceptions to this rule. These exceptional rules have been recognized by the Rylands v Fletcher case and later cases. The exceptions are as follows:
o Consent of the plaintiff:
When the plaintiff has either expressly or impliedly consented to the presence of a source of danger and also there has been no negligence on the defendant’s part, the defendant will not be held liable. It is basically the defence of ‘Volenti non fit injuria’ taken by the defendant in the court.
o Plaintiff’s Own Default:
When damage is caused to the plaintiff solely due to his own fault, he shall receive no remedy in such cases.If somehow the plaintiff himself enters into the land of the defendant and injures himself and then claims for damages, he is not liable for the damages since he himself went forward to the dangerous thing. . In the case of Ponting vs.Noakes(1994), the claimant’s horse died after it had reached over the defendant’s fence and ate some leaves from a Yew tree. The defendant was not liable under Rylands v Fletcher as the Yew tree was entirely in the confines of the defendant’s land and there had therefore been no escape.The plaintiff cannot recover anything if the damage was caused due to the unusual sensitiveness of the plaintiff’s apparatus and such damage won’t cause any harm to a person carrying ordinary business there. Until and unless there is ‘escape’ of the dangerous thing or the land of the defendant is being used for non-natural purposes for an ordinary person, the defendant can’t be held liable.
o Act of God or Vis Major:
An act of God is a sudden, direct and irresistible act of nature that nobody can reasonably prepare for. It can cause damage regardless of how many precautions one may take. For example, , tornadoes, , extraordinary rainfall, etc. are acts of God. Any damage that occurs due to these acts does not attract strict liability.For acts which are beyond human control and contemplation, caused due to superior natural forces, the principle of strict liability does not apply.
o Common Benefit of Plaintiff and the Defendant:
Where the act or escape of the dangerous thing was for the common benefit of the defendant and plaintiff, the defendant will not be held liable.
o Statutory Authority:
If any act done under the authorization of the law/statute like the government of a country or a state government causes any damage to a person, it acts as a defence to an action for tort.The defence cannot be pleaded if the if there is any kind of negligence on the part of the defendant who is under statutory authority.
o Wrongful act of a third party:
Sometimes, the involvement of third parties may be the cause of damages. For example, renovation work in one flat may cause nuisance to another flat. Here, the tenant affected by the nuisance cannot sue his landlord. He can only sue the person renovating the other flat.
Now the question arose that whether the “NO-FAULT” Liability imposed by the National Green Tribunal is justified?
Well the Apex Court of India, in the case of MC Mehta v. UOI8, affirmed that the principle of strict liability is not sufficient for safeguarding the rights of people living in an industrialised economy like India. Thus, it developed the doctrine of absolute liability which asserted that any industry performing a hazardous activity will have an absolute obligation to prevent any peril arising out of the very activity, and this obligation will not be excused in whatsoever conditions.Post this landmark case, it was noticed that the judiciary has ruled out the imposition of strict liability on the big industrial corporation and subjected it to only smaller entities. It was also perceived in many enviro-legal cases like Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India9 and Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India10, wherein the principle of absolute liability was imposed on the negligent act of big Industrial corporations. Hence, considering this well-established trend, the imposition of absolute liability as a deterrent principle would have been much more viable and reasonable retribution for committing such a reckless act.
The principle of strict liability clearly states that a person who keeps hazardous substances in his premises is responsible for the fault if that substance escapes in any manner and causes damages. This principle stands true if there was no negligence on the side of the person keeping it and the burden of proof always lies on the defendant to prove how he is not liable. Whereas the rule of absolute liability held that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and it harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate to all those who are affected by the accident.Both these rules follow the ‘no fault liability principle’, a principle in which the defendant is held liable even if he is not directly or indirectly responsible for the damages caused to the plaintiff.There is a principle which claims an individual liable without his being at fault. This is the ‘no fault liability principle’. In this case, the liable person may not have done any act of negligence or may have put in some positive efforts but the rule claims him for the compensation. This principle has its roots in the two landmark cases- Rylands v Fletcher (strict liability) and M.C.Mehta v Union of India(absolute liability).
The assertion that the strict liability rule is completely defunct in India is erroneous since the application of the rule has continued even after the establishment of the absolute liability principle. Although the implication of the strict liability principle has been reduced to a narrower set of cases, the principle itself isn’t completely inoperative in the country. The order of imposing the strict liability rule on the Vizag Gas leak cataclysm by the NGT has perplexed the legal fraternity and raised several questions over the scope of its implication. It was reported that the recklessness of the polymers factory has caused the demise of 11 citizens, more than 100 being hospitalized, along with many flora and fauna being succumbed to death. Therefore, this implies that the Vizag Gas leak was a severe industrial tragedy and its severity shouldn’t be determined by the number of fatalities, and LG Polymers factory should be sanctioned for the mischief caused to the citizens and ecological system.
This Blog is authored by Miss.Vaishali Joshi, a student of Rajarshi Shahu College of Law.
- § dspmuranchi.ac.in
- § yourarticlelibrary.com
- § toppr.com
- § hindustantimes.com
- § scconline.com
- § lawctopus.com
- § kanoonnearlaw.com
- § ikouniv.ac.in
1Etc. (‘and other things’ or ‘and so on’)
2Environment Protection Act 1986.
3Law of tort
4Union carbide Corporation vs. Union of India etc. on 4 may, 1989
5Equivalent Citations: 1987 AIR 1086, 1987 SCR (1) 819
6Public Liability Insurance Act 1991
7(1868) L R 3 H.L.330
8Supra note 11
9Supra note 7
101992 AIR 248