Oleum Gas Leak Case

Public intrest litigation

Oleum Gas Leak Case

Oleum Gas Leak Case

M C Mehta vs. Union of India AIR 1987

Citation -             1987 SCR (1) 819

Decided - December 20 1986

Laws applied - Articles 12 and 21 of the Constitution of   



Case for - Absolute Liability


In this case, oleum gas from a fertilizer plant of Shriram Foods and Fertilizers leaked and caused damage to several people and even killed one advocate. In this case, the rule of Ryland vs Fletcher was applied.


However, the company pleaded sabotage as a defense. SC went one step further and promulgated the rule of Absolute Liability. J Bhagwati observed that the rule of Ryland vs Fletcher was a century old and was not sufficient to decide cases as science has advanced a lot in these years.


Facts -


The case came up before the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court after a three-judge bench had referred it to a higher bench because certain questions of seminal importance and high constitutional significance were raised in the course of arguments when the writ petition was originally heard.


The Bench of three Judges permitted Shriram Foods and Fertiliser Industries (hereinafter referred to as Shriram) to restart its power plant as also plants for manufacture of caustic chlorine including its by-products and recovery plants like soap, glycerine and technical hard oil, subject to the conditions set out in the Judgment.

The main issue in the original writ petition which was filed in order to obtain a direction for closure of the various units of Shriram on the ground that they were hazardous to the community.

But while the writ petition was pending there was escape of oleum gas from one of the units of Shriram on 4 and 6 December 1985 and applications were filed by the Delhi Legal Aid & Advice Board and the Delhi Bar Association for award of compensation to the persons who had suffered harm on account of escape of oleum gas.


The Court thought that these applications for compensation raised certain important issues and those issues should be addressed by a constitutional bench


 If British laws haven"t progressed, Indian courts are not bound to follow their law and can evolve the laws as per the requirements of the society.

It was held that an enterprise that engages in dangerous substances has an absolute responsibility to ensure the safety of the common public. It is only the company that can know the consequences of its activities and so it must take all the steps to prevent any accident. If, even after all precautions, accident happens, the company still should be made absolutely liable for the damages.


 The reason being that the company has a social obligation to compensate the people who suffered from its activity. SC also laid down that the measure of compensation should depend on the magnitude and capacity of the enterprise so that it can have a deterrent effect.


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