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Chemical pollution caused by industries: why they invite heavy sanctions

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 09:22 IST (last updated: Wed, Nov 10, 2010 @ 12:19 IST)

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There is a principle in Law, established in India following the infamous Bhopal gas tragedy and the subsequent Oleum gas leak case (M.C.Mehta vs. Union of India) which imposes absolute liability on industrial units which release noxious and toxic effluents and cause hard-to-reverse (often irreversible) damage to life in the surrounding areas.

The principle of course is that the polluter must pay for the damage in proportion to the damage caused and his capacity regardless of cause and that negligence is not a necessary component to establish such liability. In other words, the exceptions of the strict liability doctrine of English Law laid down in Rylands vs. Fletcher do not apply here.

This applies to any industry or activity involving inherently hazardous materials and the liability is not limited to damages in regular tort law principles. The reason is that there must be an element of penalty as well.

I believe this is good law, because
  1. The damage caused by toxic effluents in industry is usually very hard to control and reverse. Effects on the biosphere can be devastating.
  2. People affected include the general public residing in nearby areas and not just those in the immediate vicinity of accidents. Pollution tends to spread rather quickly.
  3. Pollution caused is continuous in nature and in some cases can render soil and water unusable for decades, if not centuries. It is not too much to say that in some instances, the very basis of human life in such areas is laid to waste.
  4. The very nature of such activity demands extraordinary care and extraordinary liability when damage is caused by such industries. It goes beyond ordinary remedies and the social responsibility of such industries have to be emphasized.
  5. The actual cause of accident is a minor issue when compared to the magnitude and scale of environmental pollution caused by such disasters.
For those reasons I believe there is a real difference in principle as well as in practice between ordinary industrial accidents and accidents which amount effectively to environmental disasters. There is no doubt in my mind that the legal system in India is theoritically adequate to handle environment disaster cases and compensate victims of such man-made disasters in full. The real question is the political will and the effectiveness of the system in bringing those responsible to justice in a timely manner.

The only way to make such industries safer is to make the civil and criminal liability extremely harsh and force industrialists and corporations to drastically improve the safety record of their units.

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2 comment(s)

  1. your article is very good rightly said

    Comment by veena (visitor) on Mon, Nov 15, 2010 @ 18:37 IST #
  2. Thanks, veena.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 @ 09:04 IST #

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