Context: The National Green Tribunal has slapped an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on LG Polymers India, and sought response for the “damage to life, public health and environment”.

Order issued by NGT

The NGT order said: “Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous industry.”

About The rule of strict liability

  • It has been applied around the world in both civil and criminal law.
  • It was first evolved in the 1868 British case Rylands vs Fletcher.

Background of case Rylands vs Fletcher

  • John Rylands, a textile entrepreneur, was looking to supply water for his mill located in England’s coal-rich Lancashire area. 
  • During construction, engineers discovered loosely filled shafts of an abandoned coal mine, but did not block them. 
  • The shafts and underground passageways were connected to a neighbouring mine, owned by Thomas Fletcher.
  • In December 1860, the reservoir burst soon after it was filled, and the water flooded Fletcher’s mine causing him damage.
  • Applicability:
    • Strict liability exists when a defendant is liable for committing an action, regardless of what his/her intent or mental state was when committing the action.
  • Criticism of the rule: Many jurists have earlier criticised the wide variety of exceptions that allowed defendants to escape accruing strict liability. 
    • These defences against the rule include among others– consent, common benefit, an act of a stranger, an act of God, and contributory negligence.

Modification of strict liability rule in India

  • In India, legal opinion turned in favour of adopting a more stringent rule, especially after the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984. This is referred to as the rule of absolute liability.
  • Oleum gas leak case,1986:
    • Supreme Court in MC Mehta vs Union, evolved its own rule of ‘absolute liability’– providing no exceptions for hazardous industries and holding them absolutely liable.