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Vizag gas leak: India must review its compensatory regime – analysis


The May 7 gas leak at the LG polymer plant in Vizag killed a dozen and injured more than 1,000. With the situation now under control, the recurring fear of the magnitude of the recurring Bhopal gas tragedy has diminished. But the accident reminds us of India’s inadequate legislative framework for dealing with industrial accidents.

Following the Bhopal gas leak, various laws on industrial accidents were passed, for example, the Environmental Protection Act of 1986; the Hazardous Waste Management Rules (Handling and Handling); Storage and importation of dangerous chemical products in 1985, and the Factory Law of 1948 was modified in 1987. But great gaps still persist.

The 1991 Civil Liability Insurance Law (PLI Law) was implemented to ensure that victims of such accidents receive adequate compensation, immediately. In fact, in the Bhopal tragedy, the Union of India (UoI) took over the litigation of individual victims and also enacted the Bhopal Gas Leakage Disaster (Claims Processing) Act, 1985. The dispute eventually it was resolved with the Union Carbide and he was ordered to pay $ 470 million. This agreement, without consulting the victims, was challenged by public interest litigation (PIL) in the case of Charan Lal Sahu. But the court rejected the PIL and proceeded to keep the compensation under the Claims Act of 1985.

Given that the settlement money is inadequate and inconsistencies in the number of victims of the tragedy, the amount of compensation is up for debate even now, some 36 years after the incident. A curative petition is pending before the Supreme Court (SC).

The insufficiency of compensation under the PLI Act, which is the only legislation we have to compensate victims of tragedies like Bhopal and Vizag, is best highlighted by the amount offered. In case of death or permanent disability, the compensation offered is Rs 25,000, along with a maximum of Rs 12,500 for medical expenses and Rs 6000 in case of property damage. In case of loss of wages, the victim receives 1,000 rupees per month for three months.

To meet these liabilities, factory owners must have insurance coverage, but it is capped at Rs 50 crore, regardless of unit size. These limits were established in 1992. Three decades later, the amount of compensation remains the same.

In customary civil liability law (developed through judgments in England and followed in India in the absence of any legal law), there are two general principles of liability.

One, strict liability, which makes the owner of the industry dealing with dangerous substances responsible for any damage to its full extent, subject to certain exceptions, such as an act of God.

Two, absolute responsibility, which does not recognize exceptions and, regardless of failures, makes the owner responsible for any damage to its full extent. The principle of absolute responsibility was adopted by the SC in the MC Mehta case in 1987.

By prescribing a limit of liability and restricting the scope of the general legal principle of quantification of damages under absolute liability, the PLI Act acts as a legal regime that helps the owners of the industry instead of the victims.

In 1992, an Environmental Aid Fund was created by modifying the PLI Law. However, the notification of the fund and the formulation of its rules took 16 years. So far, the government has not announced any steps to use the fund.

Victims can also go to the National Green Court (NGT) for compensation and, pursuant to Section 15 of the 2010 NGT Act, may award compensation in addition to the PLI Act.

On May 8, the NGT proceeded to learn suo motu of the Vizag flight and imposed a provisional sanction of Rs 50 crore on the company. The order said: “… The leakage of dangerous gas on such a scale as to adversely affect public health and the environment clearly attracts the principle of” strict liability “against the company engaged in a dangerous or inherently dangerous industry. is responsible for restoring the damage caused by the Environment Law, in addition to other legal responsibilities. “

But NGT appears to have proceeded with a diluted principle of liability, that is, strict liability and not absolute liability.

Clearly, with industrialization and a growing number of industries using hazardous substances, our legislative framework has been unable to keep up with changing times. It is also steeped in a one-dimensional and outdated perspective that considers compensation only in monetary terms, without taking into account all other facets such as the mental and physical well-being and rehabilitation of victims, their medical care and proper employment. But with meager compensation and inadequate insurance provisions, the system fails even in its monetary aspects.

It is time for policymakers to review current rehabilitation laws to ensure the protection, dignity and well-being of citizens.

Amit Anand Tiwari is a registered advocate with the Supreme Court

The opinions expressed are personal.

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