TITLE OF THE CASE – M.C. MEHTA Vs UNION OF INDIA
PETITIONER – M.C. Mehta and Anr
RESONDENT – Union of India and Ors
DATE OF JUDGEMENT – 20/12/1986 DECISION BY – P.N. Bhagwati
This case is also popularly known as oleum gas leak case. This case is one of the landmark judgements of the Indian Judiciary.
FACTS IN BRIEF –
Shri Ram foods and fertilizers Industries was a Delhi Cloth Mills Ltd. Subsidiary based in Delhi. It was located in a very heavily crowded area of Delhi. The industry use to produce a lot of hazardous substance. It produced products like glycerine soaps.
M.C. Mehta, a social activist lawyer filed a writ petition to Supreme Court for the closure and relocation of the industry. He stated in the petition that the industry’s sulphuric acid plant must be shifted to some another place, to an area where no real danger will occur to people’s health.
So that the hazardous things happening in the industry will not affect the health of the people. The decision was still pending in the Supreme Court.
An incident happened on 4th December 1985, oleum gas from the sulphuric acid plant that was in the industry leaked resulting in the death of an advocate in the Tis Hazari Court as he inhaled the oleum gas. Also, many other people suffered a lot of injuries. Another incident took place on 6th December 1985, a minor leakage from the same plant occurred. It generated a lot of fear among the people. Another leakage happened just after 2 days, this was a minor one though. After this, claims of compensation was filed for the people who had suffered damages in this leak, by the Delhi Legal Aid and Advice Board and the Delhi Bar Associate.
The Delhi Administration issued a report in accordance to sub section  of section 133 of the code of criminal procedure. They ordered the Shri Ram industry saying that they should
stop the occupation of producing dangerous gases and chemicals, including chlorine, phosphate, oleum, super chlorine and many more hazardous chemicals which was harmful to the health of the people. They ordered the industry, to remove such hazardous chemicals from the industry within 7 days and do not store them in the same place again. And if they failed to perform this particular activity than to appear in the District Magistrate Court on 17th December 1985, to show why this order should not be enforced.
The Supreme Court of India stated that this is a very important issue as it is affecting the health of the people living near the hazardous industry, so this matter should be referred to a larger bench. And also, because it raises the question relating to the interpretation of Article 21 and Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
ISSUES IN BRIEF –
The issues that were arose in this case were –
1] Whether we can use Article 21 in this case of Shri Ram oleum gas leak?
2] Does an industry with harmful chemicals be given the permission to operate in such areas?
3] If such industries are allowed to operate in such areas, should there be any regulating mechanism?
4] Can the rule of Absolute Liability or Ryland vs. Fletcher be followed here?
5] Whether the Shri Ram Industry should be considered in Article 12 i.e. the definition of state?
6] How should be the amount of compensation decided in such cases?
Chief Justice Bhagwati showed grave concern for the safety of the people of Delhi. He stated that though these types of industries that produce hazardous substances, which are harmful for the health of people, these industries must continue to operate because they contribute to a large portion of the country’s social development as well as country’s economic development. They help in improving the quality of life. So, he stated that, the industries cannot be stopped even if they are harmful to the people. He said that the only possible thing to do will be that the industry should take all the possible measures to reduce the risk or factor to a considerable extent. The industry must follow safety protocols
because this is a very serious issue. He said that the industries must be situated in such an area where the people would be less affected by all the chemicals. Also, by giving one more reason for not shutting down the industry was, it would lead to unemployment of almost 4000 people. This was also a serious concern.
So, finally the Supreme Court ordered the industry can remain open but on a temporary basis and 11 condition were provided by the court to be followed and a panel of experts were appointed by the court for operating the industry’s operations.
The conditions framed were –
1] An expert committee should be appointed to examine and submit the report to the court.
2] One operator should be designated to operate for each safety device or measures who shall personally be held liable for safety measures and instruments.
3] Any Chief inspector or Senior inspector would make a surprise visit once in a week and report the same to the court and labour commissioner.
4] Central Board will also send a senior inspector for the surprise visit of the plant at least once a week.
5] There shall be a committee of three representatives. The function of this committee is to ensure that all safety measures are strictly observed. There should be no malfunctioning or non- functioning of the devices and instruments.
6] In various department, proper notices should be put up in English and in Hindi stating the effects of chlorine gas on human body and informing the workmen and people as to what immediate treatment should be taken in case, they are infected.
7] Every worker in the caustic chlorine plant should be properly trained and instructed in regard to functioning of the plants and equipment’s.
8] In case of any injury or death caused by leakage of chlorine gas, the company will personally be held liable for compensation.
9] There should be loudspeakers installed for giving timely warning to the people residing in the vicinity in case of gas leakage.
10] The management shall ensure that all the workers are guarded with proper safety measures and regular medical check-up of workers should be carried out.
Management of Shriram will deposit a sum of Rs. 20 lakhs in the court for payment of compensation claims.
This article is written by Manasi Khadilkar of Gopaldas Jhamatmal Advani Law College.