MC Mehta v. Union of India
Date of Order:
20th December, 1986
Justice P Bhagwati
Petitioner: MC Mehta
Defendant: Union of India
- On December 4th, 1985, a significant oleum gas leak from one of Shriram's facilities occurred. Both the workers and members of the general public outside were physically impacted by the leaking.
- In addition, one attorney working in the Tis Hazari Court passed away from oleum gas inhalation. Both the petitioner and the Delhi Bar Association acknowledged the occurrence. Two days later, on December 6, a little amount of oleum gas leaked from a pipe junction.
- The Delhi government promptly reacted to the second two oleum gas leak events by issuing an order under Section 133(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 that instructed Shriram to take the following actions.
- To stop using dangerous gases and chemicals in the unit within two days; To shift the stated chemicals to a safer location within seven days and to avoid storing the chemicals in the same location where the catastrophe occurred again;
- Or, to appear in person on December 17th, 1985, before the District Magistrate's Court in Delhi to provide justification for the inapplicability of the aforementioned order.
- Both of the aforementioned writ petitions were heard by the Supreme Court the following day. The Supreme Court remarked that it is not practicable to execute the steps urgently due to the "inadequacies" in the Supreme Court's cognizance of the District Magistrate's aforementioned ruling.
The petitioner demanded to close the Plant as it created a lot of pollution.
- The petitioner-in-person assembled the "Agarwal Committee" of specialists and investigated Shriram's caustic chlorine factory using the freedom granted to him by the Supreme Court.
- The Committee identified numerous flaws in the safety protocols and came to the conclusion that the plant's location in a highly populated area made it impossible to completely eliminate dangers.
- Based on the findings, the petitioner-in-person told the court that the caustic chlorine plant shouldn't be allowed to restart because there would always be a significant risk to those who lived nearby, even if Shriram's management followed all of the committees' recommendations to the letter.
- The Supreme Court ultimately decided to allow Shriram to reopen the aforementioned facility. The first two directives, issued by the Inspector and Assistant Commissioner of Factories on December 7 and 24, 1985, were suspended even though they were not reversed. The Court issued a temporary permit for the plant to operate and imposed fines along with ten tough requirements. The Court also stated that the authorization it had granted would be revoked if the requirements weren't maintained.
- Following were the rigorous requirements imposed by the Supreme Court on Shriram before the caustic chlorine facility could be restarted:
- The Court emphasised that Shriram was only compelled to follow all of the expert committees' recommendations after filing the PIL. Thus, the Court instructed an expert committee to oversee the safety precautions and maintenance once every two weeks before submitting a report to the Court. The Court ordered Shriram to pay Rs 30,000 towards the expert committee's different expenses.
- The Court ordered Shriram to hire one plant operator to oversee the factory's safety and security procedures. In the event of any other future accidents, the operator would be held personally liable.
- Every week, the Chief Inspector of Factories or any other inspector working under his supervision was required to make an unannounced surprise inspection. The inspector's task was to determine whether the plant's management was following all of the safety precautions recommended by the expert panels.
- In addition to the aforementioned, the Court further requested that the Central Board appoint a senior officer to check on Shriram's compliance with waste management regulations.
- The Court ordered the Chairman and Managing Director of Delhi Cloth Mills Ltd, the business that owned all of Shriram's units, to provide the Court with an undertaking stating that they would be responsible for any future accidents and would personally be responsible for compensating each victim.
- Following nominations from each of the two Shriram trade unions, Lokahit Congress Union and Karamchari Ekta Union, a committee of three delegates was requested to oversee the plant's safety procedures and notify management in the event of any carelessness. The Court further ordered them to notify the Labour Commissioner if the management willfully neglected or ignored such defaults. The court also ordered management to provide representatives with two weeks of plant operation training.
- Every department, as well as the building's entrance, should have a comprehensive chart detailing the effects of chlorine gas on humans and what to do in the event of an emergency leak. The chart should be available in both English and Hindi.
- The staff at the caustic chlorine factory needs to receive adequate instruction on how to operate the facility and what to do in the event of a leak. The Court recommended adopting audio-visual courses for instruction, followed by a "refresher course" that included mock trials at least once every six weeks.
- Additionally, the court ordered the placement of loudspeakers on industrial grounds to alert locals in case of unintentional leaks.
- Management needed to keep a close eye on the workers to make sure they were following safety protocols and getting frequent physicals.
For the first instance in Indian legal history, an industry was held absolutely accountable for an accident and was obliged to pay a sizable amount as compensation as a result of the public interest litigation. Due to the affirmation of epistolary jurisdiction, the verdict was also possible to restore the public's faith in the judiciary. The verdict is distinctive in that the Court refrained from outright prohibiting industrialization since doing so would halt all scientific and technological progress. Instead, it underlined the necessity for rules to prevent accidents and eventual liability in case of accidents by taking into account the need for industrialization and the reality that accidents are inevitable.