Explain the liability for harm caused by inherent dangerous industries with reference to m. c. Mehta v. union of India

 2. Introduction:

Inherent dangerous industries are such industries that which are involved in production of products with the help of toxic elements which might have an adverse affect on the environment and the people due to any escape of such products[1]. Proper care must be taken as the affect might victimize many people due to the escape of raw materials. According to the advancement of technological factors and to meet the demand there are many inherent dangerous industries operating in the environment. But they are playing a decisive role in the economy and also causing risk to human life. Many cases are there that have the problem regarding victimization of people or property for the operations of such industries. But still the operations of such industries are going on only to meet the demand of people even though the risks associated are very high. Some of the liabilities are told to be absolute liability[2] depending on the density of losses. The industries are also held liable of product if any harm is caused to the civilians.

3.Key terms:

3.1 Product Liability[3]: The liability of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, vendors who provide customers with different types of products if the products cause any harm to the customers. The persons who are affected by unsafe product can have a Cause of Action[4] against the persons who produced it.

Theories of liability[5]

Negligence, breach of warranty, misrepresentation and strict tort liability are the four different theories of product liability.

Negligence: It refers to doing something that lacks care and a person not doing something that he’s supposed to do. Such as a manufacturer can be said to be negligent if he did not work properly and finally produced an unsafe product.

Breach of warranty: This term refers to the failure of a seller in case of keeping a promise regarding the quality of a product. The warranties provided with the products must be fulfilled by the seller if the product came out to be defective or unsafe.

Misrepresentation: This means presenting the product in a wrong way or provides the customers with false information regarding the product. In case of product promotion or advertisement not letting know the customers of the adverse affect that it might cause. If the plaintiff must prove his reliance on the misrepresentation that was made can be a key to recovery.

Strict liability: this term refers that all the vendors or manufacturers are held liable for the harm caused to the individuals by using their product even there is absence of fault. But the injured party must prove the defectiveness of the product.

3.2 Inherent dangerous industries: The industries that are into producing such products those are detrimental to our environment as well to the lives of people. These can be different type of industries manufacturing foods, fertilizers, tanneries etc. These industries use many toxic materials for their production purpose which are dangerous for health. They also use different type of chemicals for the manufacturing of their products and any escape of these products can lead to disaster in the environment.

3.3 Strict Liability[6]: It is a standard for liability that might exist in the criminal or civil context and this make the person liable for the harm or damage caused by his act even if he is guilty. Strict liability is very prominent in tort law[7], corporation law and criminal law. It was developed in the case of Ryland’s v. Fletcher.[8]

3.4 Absolute liability[9]: This liability mainly came into being after that tragic Bhopal Gas leak or the Union carbide case. This means that the person will be held liable if he is involved in any sort of dangerous inherent activity and the actions are contrary to public policies even though the person’s action was not intentional or negligent[10].

 4. Necessity of law in case of maintaining the operations of dangerously inherent industries:

Different types of industries are operating for serving different purposes. Among them there are many dangerous inherent industries which are producing different products with the help of many chemicals or toxic elements. It is often seen that due to leakage of certain elements in the environment many adverse affects take place. Some of the industries don’t want to be held liable for not assuring the safety of public. They don’t even feel the necessity to compensate the injured ones nor feel like looking in to the matter to make it work properly. The cases discussed below show the examples of how law takes its part and tries to provide justice regarding the factor. The way of manufacturing or the technological sectors should be looked into to insure public’s safety. M. C. Mehta v. Union of India is a great example in this case. The other two cases also describe the liability for harm caused to others and how they should be taken into account for compensation.

Below some cases are discussed about the liability for harm caused to public-

4.1 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India:

4.1.1 Bhopal Gas leak tragedy[11]:

This tragedy is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster also known as ‘Hiroshima of chemical industry’ which took place I December 1984. On the night of the event the there was a leakage of methyl isocyanides (MIC) from Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) plant that manufactured pesticides. This is said to be the most toxic gas and as a result thousands of people lost their lives and many have suffered from permanent injuries. This issue was also held as an absolute liability

On that night large amounts of water entered into a tank containing MIC of 42 tonnes which resulted in an increase of the pressure inside the tank due to change in the temperature. Due to this leakage huge amount of MIC gas was released in the air of Bhopal and caused immediate physical reaction as people inhaled the gas and thousands of people died immediately and many others died afterwards as the after affect of the gas. The long term affects included blindness, respiratory complexities, lung injury, neurological disorders, visual impairments also women affected by the gas gave birth to defective children.

The legal claim: in 1985 Indian Govt. filed a case against the company in the U.S. court for $3.3 billion but this case was transferred into India. The act of Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act allowed the govt. to be the representative of all the victims and asked for 350 crore as compensation but High Court reduced it and made it 250 crore. There was a deal made between the Indian Govt. and Union Carbide which fixed $470 millions finally but $470 million was not sufficient to compensate all the injured, it is hardly 15% of the original claim of $3.3 billion at the U.S Supreme Court. This was indeed a bad move as the settlement would limit liabilities under future claims as well.

Criminal Proceedings: In this case it was claimed that the plant as defective and was operated without any proper care and they looked for help from CSIR and the members found out that the MIC gas was kept in a tank instead of stainless large drums. The gas scrubber was out of order and it did not treat the gas with caustic soda which could have let the level of safety raised. They found out that the reasons were insufficient caution in designing the material and other instruments, insufficient control of maintaining storage and quality of the materials and lack of quick disposal of materials which lead to ignorance and recklessness of running the business.

Judgment: The court finally found all the accused people guilty and sentenced them for imprisonment and was held liable for compensation but it could enforce as some of them did not appear in the court.

 4.1.2 Oleum Gas leak case[12]:

This case has been raised due to an issue of Oleum gas leakage from Shriram Foods and Fertilisers Ltd at Delhi in 1985 which resulted in death of few persons. This case mainly consists of absolute liability and concepts of deep pockets[13]. This leakage was due to mechanical and human errors because of bursting of the tank containing the gas as the structure of the tank collapsed. Within two days of the incident another minor leakage took place as a result of leakage of gas from joints of pipes. On 6th December, 1985 under Section 133(1) of Cr. P.C,[14] At this juncture M.C. Mehta moved to the Supreme Court to claim compensation by filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for the losses caused and pleaded that the closed establishment should not be allowed to restart[15].

The facts: This case came to Supreme Court as the bench of three judges made references as questions regarding constitutional importance had risen in the arguments of the writ petition being originally heard.

The three judges then permitted Shriram to restart the production of caustic chlorine and recovery of plants like soap, glycerine and technical hard oil. The main issue was related to the closure of different units of production of Shriram because of the hazards caused to the community. Delhi Legal Aid and Advice Board and the Delhi Bar Association filed for compensation for the people who suffered due to the leakage.

These issues raised involved substantial questions of law and great constitutional importance and that is why the bench of three judges decided to refer the case to a larger bench of five judges.

Objection of the defendants: The only preliminary objection that was filed for the defendant was that Court must not decide these constitutional issues as there was no claim for compensation has been made by the petitioner and that’s why these issues cannot rise in the writ petition. But court said rejecting the objection that even though no compensation was asked by the petitioner but still the applications for compensation could not be ignored.


There are certain questions that came up before Supreme Court such as what are the possibility[16] and the field of the jurisdiction of this court under Article 32[17].

In the case of Bondhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India the court said that the possibility and field of Article 32 does not only lets court to follow a direction order or writ for establishing the fundamental rights but also supports to protect the fundamental rights of the people. For serving this purpose court can always adopt new strategies especially for the disadvantaged who are denied of their basic rights.

The second issue that raised question regarding whether article 21[18] is available against Shriram which is owned by a public Ltd company named Delhi Cloth Mills Ltd. The issue of availability of art 21 against a private company was argued by the counsel for applicants and ShriramThey also looked into Govt. industrial policy and found out that industry carried out by Shriram was supposed to be carried out by itself. But it was permitted to be carried out under strict control and regulation of the government.

The third issue raised question that what would be the measure of liability for such industry if any accident takes place and people get injured or even die. According to Ryland’s v. Fletcher if any person keeps something in his land that could do mischief if it escapes and if the person fails to keep it at his own risk then the consequence of the escape would be prima facie[19] which refers even if the person is not knowledgeable about it but he has to compensate for damage caused by the escape. The court also pointed out what should be the measure of compensation as size of the company also natters as larger companies should compensate large amount to the sufferers.

Order of the court:

The Supreme Court observed that,

“Since we are not deciding the question as to whether Shriram is an authority within the meaning of Article 12 so as to be subjected to the discipline of the fundamental right under Article 21, we do not think it would be justified in setting up a special machinery for investigation of the claims for compensation made by those who allege that they have been the victims of oleum gas escape. But we would direct that Delhi Legal Aid and Advice Board to take up the cases of all those who claim to have suffered on account of oleum gas and to file actions on their behalf in the appropriate court for claiming compensation against Shriram. Such actions claiming compensation may be filed by the Delhi Legal Aid and Advice Board within two months from today and the Delhi Administration is directed to provide the necessary funds to the Delhi Legal Aid and Advice Board for the purpose of filing and prosecuting such actions.”[20]

The court then compensated the victims of Oleum gas tragedy but they think it was not enough to compensate. Presence of oleum gas in the atmosphere is still hazardous as a result of many still born children.

4.1.3. Kanpur tanneries case[21]:

An active social worker M. C. Mehta filed a writ or petition for the assurance of safety of river Ganga due to the letting out of the trade effluents[22].

Facts: The claim was that neither the people nor Govt. paid attention for the cleanliness of river Ganga at that time which was getting polluted by the mixture of different effluents coming out of Kanpur tanneries.

There was not any sort of dispute regarding the fact that river Ganga was being polluted. It was also visible that the tanneries of Kanpur did not have enough facilities to stop polluting Ganga as they lacked physical facilities technological advancements and funds. The tanneries were given time to establish some pre-treatment plants but it was not viable for all of them as it was very costly.

Judgment: Venkataramiah, J. in his judgment said that it was primary duty of every citizen to protect the environment from being polluted[23]. Even the court said that it is public duty to keep the environment from getting polluted including forests, lakes, wildlife and rivers[24]. Court also included the duty of the state Govt. that they should take necessary steps for eliminating environment pollution and improve the quality of the environment[25]. Court might take steps if it found that if any nuisance or wrongful act affecting environment negatively and the statutory bodies are not responding or taking any viable actions regarding this and can adhere concept of Strict Liability if required[26]. The final decision was made for the betterment of public at large and for the safety of river Ganga and if any inconvenience seen by the management of the tanneries then they will be closed. Tanneries not having adequate financial capacity and failed to take steps in building the pre-treatment plants will be closed down even it cased unemployment but in this case safety of the people and environment come at first place.

5.Personal opinion:

The cases discussed above show the different aspect of liability occurred by causing harm to the people. The productivity of inherent dangerous industries mainly those that cause harm to environment and the people. According to M. C. Mehta v. Union of India it’s visible that the leakage of oleum gas and MIC gas in Bhopal tragedy took away peoples’ lives and left many people injured. These inherent dangerous industries should be taken proper care by controlling them and maintaining a proper way of producing things to make sure that no such things happen again and cause damage to the people.

6. Conclusion:

The facts discussed above are related to the production of different products that contain chemical elements and the escape of these elements might lead to great harm. If any enterprise is carrying such production business then the law must give conditional permission that if any accident occurs then the industry will be held liable to absorb the cost of such inherent dangerous activity. Such dangerous activity can be permitted for private profit if the industry takes the liability for compensating and must assure highest standard of safety. For that law has to grow to satisfy the fast changing needs of the society and keep abreast with the economic development taking place in the country. Moreover public safety is a very important issue in this case and it should be properly taken care of.


MC Mehta v. Union of India 2 March 2012. Facts. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Mehta_v._Union_of_India

MC Mehta v. Union of India 2 March 2012. Preliminary Objection of Defendants. Retrieved      March 20, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Mehta_v._Union_of_India

MC Mehta v. Union of India 2 March 2012. Judgment. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Mehta_v._Union_of_India

MC Mehta v. Union of India 2 March 2012. Issues of Liability. Retrieved March 22, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Mehta_v._Union_of_India

MC Mehta v. Union of India n. d. Retrieved April 1, 2012, from      http://www.lawyersclubindia.com/sc/M-C-MEHTA-Vs-UNION-OF-INDIA-OTHERS-2576.asp

MC Mehta v. Union of Indian 1987 5 March, 2010. Shriram Food Fertilizer Case Retrieved April 1, 2012, from http://www.slideshare.net/ann7685/shriram-food-fertilizer-case-project

Bhopal Gas Tragedy 3 October, 2007. Bhopal Disaster Retrieved April 1, 2012, from http://www.goforthelaw.com/articles/fromlawstu/article80.htm

Product Liability 21 February 2012. Theories of Liability Retrieved March 24, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_liability

Kanpur Tanneries Matter n. d. Retrieved April 1, 2012, from http://www.angelfire.com/linux/prasun/cipe/mcmehta.html

Bhopal Gas Tragedy 6 October 2010. Legal Aspects Of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Retrived April 1, 2012, from http://legalservicesindia.com/article/article/legal-aspects-of-the-bhopal-gas-tragedy-373-1.html

Product Liability n. d. Definition. Retrieved March 25, 2012, from


M.C. Mehta V. Union of India 6 November, 2008. Retrieved March 25, 2012, from http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l265-M.C.-Mehta-v.-Union-of-India.html

M.C. Mehta V. Union of India n. d. Retrieved March 25, 2012, from http://www.ielrc.org/content/e0409.pdf

Strict Liability n. d. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_liability

AIR (1987) 4 SCC 463

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987) 1 ACC 157 : 1987 1 SCC 395 : AIR 1987 SC 965

S. Saiduddin v Court of Welfare Commr 1996(3) Scale 28 (SP)

[1] Thing produced by labor or effort or the result of an act or a process.

[2] Strict (liabilities existing in a criminal or civil context) liabilities without any exceptions, the liabilities that must be met.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_liability

[4] The facts that give persons the right to seek judicial relief against another.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_liability

[6] http://www.delhilawyers.org/the-concept-of-strict-and-absolute-liability.html

[7] Tort law deals with situations where a person’s behavior has unfairly caused someone else to suffer loss or harm and allows the harmed one to recover their loss.

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rylands_v._Fletcher

[9] http://www.delhilawyers.org/the-concept-of-strict-and-absolute-liability.html

[10] http://www.answers.com/topic/absolute-liability

[11] http://legalservicesindia.com/article/article/legal-aspects-of-the-bhopal-gas-tragedy-373-1.html

[12] http://www.slideshare.net/ann7685/shriram-food-fertilizer-case-project

[13] An American slang meaning extensive financial wealth or resources.

[15]  http://www.legalservicindia.com/article/1265-M.C.-Mehta-v.-Union-of-India.html


[16] http://indiankanoon.org/doc/981147/

[17] Remedies for enforcements of rights conferred by this part-

a. the right to move to Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings

b. The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs

c. Without prejudice to the power conferred on the Supreme Court by clause or by parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within local limits.

d. the right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this constitution


[18] Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty- no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

[19] It’s a Latin expression that means ‘first sight’ or ‘first counter’. Literally means at first appearance.

[20] Directly quoted from- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Mehta_v_Union_of_India

[21] AIR (1987) 4 SCC 463

[22] It includes any solid or gaseous element which is discharged from tanneries or other industries and which is very harmful if it mixes with any river.

[23] Section 2(a) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

[24] Article 51-A of the Constitution of India

[25] Sections 3 and 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

[26] http://www.angelfire.com/linux/prasun/cipe/mcmehta.html