It was December 1984 when a gas leak in Bhopal shook the entire nation, leaving traces that are still felt by many. On May 7, a chemical gas leak in the LG Polymers Plant at RR Venkatapuram near Naiduthota resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people. Another 800 who reported sick were admitted to various private and state hospitals. At a time when the world is fighting corona virus, the negligence of the company has cost so many lives.
Ironically, the LG website states: – LG Polymers India Pvt., Ltd, recognized quality and environment are the basic elements to create added value for customers by strongly implementing the quality systems assured to an absolute level according to the customer satisfaction compliance , but surprisingly the due diligence was lacking.
In India, such incidents are subject to conventional tort law, which is not even codified.
Lessons from the past
1. The Bhopal Gas Leak, December 2, 1984 – The Bhopal leak, one of the most dangerous incidents, claimed around 2000 lives, and Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), still fled to his motherland to evade the law. Instead of a settlement system, an "agreement" was reached between the UCC and the government, but surprisingly, many of the demands are still unheard and victims are still facing litigation.
2. The Oleum Gas Leak Incident, December 4, 1985 – There was a gas leak from Shriram Industries in the densely populated area of Kirti Nagar, Delhi. Justice Bhagwati proposed in this case the "no fault of your own" liability. This was an evolutionary decision by the court that immediately compensated the victims and initiated the roots of the tort law in India. The court ordered polluters to deposit Rs 20 lakh and to provide 15 lakh as a bank guarantee for victims' claims.
“We need to develop new principles and new norms that adequately address new problems that arise in a highly industrialized economy. We cannot allow our legal thinking to be constructed with reference to law applicable in England or in another country. We are certainly ready to receive light from any source, but we need to build our own case law. "- J. Bhagwati
3. The Uphaar Tragedy, June 13, 1997 – Another unfortunate incident in which 59 people were killed in the Uphaar cinema in New Delhi. The case became another example of lengthy litigation, all due to the unavailability of the codified law. The giant company – Ansals was sued by the Victims Association and the litigation lasted around 19 years.
“The Uphaar process lasts nineteen years, and in those years the country has experienced many man-made disasters that have killed hundreds of people. When we started this case, we hoped that the courts would give priority to such cases to avoid similar tragedies. But neither the government nor the judiciary have taken notice of such a case. It was enough for the government to announce a pitiful sum as ex-gratia compensation and to shy away from it ”- Trial by fire, Pg. 245 the Krishnamoorthy (one of the victim's family)
A codified crime law – the order of the day
The lack of a codified crime law is one of the reasons why such incidents circumvent normal laws with minimal harm. According to Salmond, it is a civil offense, the remedy is a lawsuit for non-liquidated damage, and it is not solely a breach of contract, breach of trust, or other just obligation. In Tort, the purpose of an arbitration award is to bring the plaintiff back as far as possible into the position in which he was placed before the offense was committed, rather than seeking meager compensation. The Bhopal tragedy was an eye-opener for the government, employers and businesses. As J. Bhagwati noted:
“But it seems that the Bhopal disaster shook everyone's lethargy and triggered a new wave of consciousness. Each government was made aware of the need to verify that industries that use dangerous technologies and produce dangerous goods were equipped with adequate and appropriate security and pollution controls. "
The law on liability insurance currently regulates such accidents and is the responsibility of the “owner” of a company to compensate. Section 3 of the law states: The owner is liable in the event that an injury or death occurs or property is damaged by an accident. In addition, the applicant need not assert and demonstrate that the death, injury, or damage for which the application was made is the result of an unlawful act, neglect or negligence on the part of a person. But there are many complications that ultimately lead to a civil lawsuit and an endless lawsuit.
In America, for example, such claims / damages are subject to the Federal Torts Claim Act, and the state is liable to the extent that a person is in similar circumstances. Given the challenges we have faced in the past, the civil process should be replaced by a crime dispute. Even with the Vizag gas leak, the procedure is not clear. An FIR was filed in the Vizag Gasleck case while victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy are still awaiting compensation.
If India had a codified crime law, the Bhopal victims would have received respectable compensation and no judicial settlement. The Uphaar Victim Association would not have been tortured in 19 years. Interestingly, J. Bhagwati called for Indian law on tort law and for not blindly following English law. The Supreme Court ruling on the oleum gas leak (MC Mehta v Union of India) was a step forward in the development of tort law in India.
(Areeb Uddin is a law student at Aligarh Muslim University. The opinions expressed are personal.)