PRINCIPLE OF ‘STRICT LIABILITY’ VS ‘ABSOLUTE LIABILITY’

The National Green Tribunal’s order in the Visakhapatnam gas tragedy found LG Polymers prima facie liable under the 19th century English law, Principle of “strict liability”, which was made redundant in India by the Supreme Court in 1986.

Strict liability principle:

Under the “strict liability principle”, a party is not liable and need not pay compensation if a hazardous substance escapes his premises by accident or by an “act of God’” among other circumstances.

The strict liability, evolved in an 1868 English case called Rylands versus Fletcher, provided companies with several exemptions from assuming liability.

In the Visakhapatnam gas tragedy, even though the NGT directed the company to deposit an initial amount of ₹50 crore and formed a fact-finding committee, its use of the term “strict liability” has been questioned. Lawyers say the term “absolute liability” should have been used instead.

Important Info :

Absolute Liability Principle:

The Supreme Court, while deciding the Oleum gas leak case of Delhi in 1986, found strict liability woefully inadequate to protect citizens’ rights in an industrialised economy like India and replaced it with the ‘absolute liability principle’.

Under the absolute liability principle, the apex court held that a company in a hazardous industry cannot claim any exemption.
It has to mandatorily pay compensation, whether or not the disaster was caused by its negligence. The court said a hazardous enterprise has an “absolute non-delegable duty to the community”.
The principle of absolute liability is part of Article 21 (right to life).