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19 Jan 2010

V. Venkatesan, Frontline [India]

Judicial failure [India]

In the wake of the Bhopal gas leak disaster, Union Carbide Corporation...presented a sabotage theory to shield itself from the claims of the victims...The Supreme Court rejected the rule of strict liability, and in its place applied its new doctrine of “absolute liability”. According to this, where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and an accident in such an operation results in the escape of a toxic gas, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident, and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions under the rule of strict liability...In January 1991, Parliament enacted the Public Liability Insurance Act (PLIA), giving statutory recognition to no-fault liability...The maximum compensation under the Act, however, is limited to a measly Rs.25,000 although the right of a victim to claim larger damages under any other law is expressly reserved...Poor enforcement of the Act by the authorities has meant that its laudable objectives are out of sync with reality. [Also refers to Shriram Group]