M.C. Mehta v. Union of India and Ors.
This Judgement analysis(M.C. Mehta v. Union of India) Shriram Food Fertilizer case is jointly written by Author: Kajal Kumari and Co-author: Bishmita Paul, 5th-year student of School of Law, Galgotias University, Greater Noida, U.P.
|Full case name
|M.C. Mehta v. Union of India and Ors.
|December 20, 1986
|AIR 1987 SCR (1) 819
- P. N. Bhagwati
This case deals with hazardous substances which was manufactured by the industries and these hazardous substances has potential to affect the life of people. This case was opined by the Majority C. J. Bhagwati. In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India introduced the rule of absolute liability. Scope of rule of absolute liability are firstly, don’t have any exceptions, secondly, not only cover the public negligence or fault but also cover the personal injuries caused due to the negligence of other, thirdly, now cover not only the occupier of land but also non-occupier of the land.
Statement of Facts:
M.C. Mehta, a social activist lawyer filed a writ petition under article 32 of the Constitution of India against Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries for the relocation and closure of this industries. Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries, a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited manufactured hazardous substances and located in densely populated area of Kirti Nagar, Delhi.
While the petition was pending, on 4 and 6 December 1985, oleum gas leaked from one of the units of the Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries as a result of this, one advocate who practicing in Tis Hazari Court, Delhi, died and health of several others get affected. The Delhi Legal Aid and Advice Board and the Delhi Bar Association filed an another application for the award of compensation to the person who suffered harm due to the leakage of oleum gas to the Honourable Supreme Court of India.[i]
In this case, Article 12, 21, 32 of Constitution of India were applied. According to Article 12, the term State includes Government and Parliament of India, Government and Legislature of each States, all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the Control of Government of India. In Article 12 word ‘includes’ means definition is not exhaustive even though the definition expressly mentioned that only the Government and Legislature and local authorities constitute the State.
There might be other entities within the scope of this definition. Article 21 deals with protection of life and personal liberty. Right guaranteed by Article 32 can be exercised for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights. An application under Article 32 which is made to the Supreme Court is a substantive right.
- Whether the Hon’ble Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the matter?
- Whether such hazardous industries should be allowed to operate in thickly populated areas and if they are allowed, whether any regulating mechanism be evolved?
- Whether article 21 is available against Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries and whether Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries, a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited comes under Article 12 of Constitution of India to be considered as State?
- Whether compensation would be provided to the victim who suffered harm due to the leakage of oleum gas if so then how the compensation is to be determined?
Judgement of this case:
- In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Ors.[ii], the Court held that under article 32 of the Constitution of India, Supreme Court has not only power to issue direction, order or writ for enforcement of fundamental rights but the Court also has constitutional obligation to protect the fundamental rights of the people and for that purpose this Court has all incidental and ancillary powers including power to make and adopt new remedies and fashion new strategies designed to enforce the new fundamental rights.
To increase the ambit of filing of petition under article 32 of the Constitution of India, the Hon’ble Court in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and Ors.[iii] also held that letter addressed to the individual justice should not be rejected merely on the ground that letter not addressed to the Court or to the Chief Justice and his companion judges. Neither should the Court adopt a rigid stance that no letters will be entertained unless they are supported by an affidavit.
Thus, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the court has jurisdiction over the matter.
- In the opinion of Chief Justice Bhagwati, that they can-not adopt the policy of completely removal of hazardous industries because these industries also helps in the improvement of quality of life.
In this case, Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries supply chlorine to Delhi Water Supply for the purpose of drinking water. Thus, these industries are essential ingredients for the economic development and for the improvement of quality of life.
The Court also observed that if the permanent closure of Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries take place then 4000 workers would get unemployed and it becomes the major social problem of poverty. Therefore court made an order to open the industries temporarily subject to some conditions and appointed an expert committee to monitor the working of the industries.
The court also suggested to the government that they will have to evolve national policy for the location of toxic or hazardous industries.
Government formulated some conditions for the hazardous industries:
- The Central Pollution Control Board to appoint an inspector to inspect and see that pollution standards set under the Water Act and Air Act to be followed;
- To constitute Worker’s Safety Committee;
- Industry to publicize the effects of chlorine and its appropriate treatment;
- Instruct and train its workers in plant safety through audio visual programme, install loudspeaker to alert neighbors in the event of leakage of gas;
- Workers to use safety devices like masks and belts;
- And that the workers of Shriram to furnish undertaking from Chairman of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited, that in case of escape of gas resulting in death or injury to workmen or people living in vicinity they will be “personally responsible ” for payment of compensation of such death or injury.[iv]
- Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries engaged in an activity which has potential to affect the life and health of the people and this comes under the purview of article 21 of the Constitution of India was argued by the counsel for the applicants and Shriram Industries.
For the purpose of deciding whether Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries, a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited comes under Article 12 of Constitution of India to be considered as State, the court deals with the following cases:
In Rajasthan State Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal and Ors.[v], the Court held that only the authorities created by statutes were other authorities. The fact that activities of the Board were commercial in nature is irrelevant as the State itself can carry out the trade and activities.
In Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagat Ram[vi], the court followed the test laid down in Rajasthan State Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal and Ors. and held that ONGC, LIC and Industrial Finance Corporation are State within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India. It was held that all the three Statutory Corporation have the power to make rules and regulations under the Statute for regulating the condition of services and their employees.
Finally the Hon’ble Court said that they do not propose to decide whether Shriram Food Fertilizers Industries, a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited comes under Article 12 of Constitution of India to be considered as State because of insufficient time to consider and reflect on this question in depth.
- In this case rule of absolute liability was applied. The enterprise is absolutely liable to compensate all those who suffered loss due to the leakage of oleum gas and such liability does not come under the exceptions of rule of strict liability which was applied in Rylands v. Fletcher[vii]. Court also directed that Shriram Food Fertilizers industries would pay sum of Rs. 20 lakhs to the victims who suffered loss due to the leakage of gas as compensation.[viii]
Court also held that measure of compensation must be correlated to the magnitude and capacity of the enterprise because such compensation must have a deterrent effect. The larger and more prosperous the enterprise, the amount of compensation payable by it must be greater.[ix]
In today’s scientific world, many industries involved in dangerous and hazardous activities like nuclear energy, hazardous gases, etc. and the chances of accident in these industries are high so the industries cannot absolve themselves from the responsibility that they took all reasonable care and they were not negligent while dealing with the hazardous activities. So, Rule of strict liability was replaced by the rule of absolute liability.[x]
[i] Surajit Bhaduri, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India – Article 12 of the constitution, LEGAL SERVICE INDIA, http://www.legalserviceindia.com/lawyers/lawyers_home.htm.
[ii] (1997) 10 SCC 549.
[iii] (1997) 10 SCC 549.
[iv] Roopali Lamba, Case Analysis: M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Shriram Industries Case), LATEST LAWS (May 26, 2018), https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/case-analysis-m-c-mehta-v-union-of-india-shriram-industries-case-by-roopali-lamba/#_ftnref2.
[v] 1967 AIR 1857, 1967 SCR (3) 377.
[vi] AIR 1975 SC 1331, 1975 (30) FLR 283, 1975 LabIC 881, (1975) ILLJ 399 SC, (1975) 1 SCC 421, 1975 3 SCR 619.
[vii] (1868) L.R. 3 H.L. 330.
[viii] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, WP 12739/1985 (1986.02.17) (Oleum Gas Leak Case), ELAW, https://www.elaw.org/es/content/india-mc-mehta-v-union-india-wp-127391985-19860217-oleum-gas-leak-case.
[ix] Supra note 4.
[x] Bharat Parmar & Ayush Goyal, Absolute Liability: The Rule of Strict Liability in Indian Perspective, MANUPATRA, http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/2D83321D-590A-4646-83F6-9D8E84F5AA3C.pdf.