The Principle of Strict and Absolute Liability Calls for Remedial Action: National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi

Whether the polluter is liable to pay compensation due to intensified illegal action leading to casualties, was a question considered by the NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL, PRINCIPAL BENCH, NEW DELHI, before a bench consisting of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Chairperson; Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sudhir Agarwal, Judicial Member; Hon’ble Mr. Justice Brijesh Sethi, Judicial Member; Hon’ble Prof. A. Senthil Vel, Expert Member; and Hon’ble Dr. Afroz Ahmad, Expert Member, in the matter of In re: News item published in The Indian Express dated 07.01.2022 titled “Gujarat: At least 06 dead, 20 sick after gas leak at industrial area in Surat” and Brackish Water Research Centre vs. Gujarat State Pollution Control Board & Ors. [Original Application No. 05/2022], on 18.01.22.

The facts of the case are that the matter has been taken up in the light of media report titled “Gujarat: At least 06 dead, 20 sick after gas leak at industrial area in Surat”. The report mentions that the incident happened due to gas leakage from a tanker outside Sachin Industrial area, Surat, leading to the workers getting suffocated. It was noted that as per principle of ‘Absolute Liability’, laid down in M.C Mehta vs. UoI & Ors., (1987) 1 SCC 395, principle of ‘Strict and Absolute Liability’ applies and the generator, transporter and handler of such waste is accountable for the loss of lives, injuries and damage to the environment. The heirs of the deceased and the injured are entitled to compensation. It was also asserted that it is patent from the factual report of the CPCB, based on information furnished by the GPCB that the incident is a result of unscientific handling, transportation and disposal of hazardous waste in violation of Hazardous and other Waste (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi, considered the facts, arguments, and placed reliance on several precedents, and held that in view of earlier orders of this Tribunal on the subject, remedial action is required in the present matter on the same pattern for payment of compensation to the victims, taking action against the violators and measures to prevent such occurrences. Accordingly, a nine-member Committee was constituted. The Committee was directed to ascertain the sequence of events; causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible therefor; extent of damage to life, human and non-human; and environment – including, water, soil, air; steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the environment, and the cost involved; remedial measures to prevent recurrence; any other incidental or allied issues found relevant, including particularly already acidic effluents flowing in the drain in question. It was held that the nodal agency will be the CPCB and the State PCB for coordination and compliance. It was also affirmed that the party will be at liberty to move this Tribunal, if aggrieved by any action of the statutory regulator in pursuance of the order either by way of application or by way of statutory appeal. Therefore, the application was disposed of.

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Reviewed by Bhargavi

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