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Environmental Law under the Law of Torts

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Environmental Law under the Law of Torts

The industrialization has posed serious concerns for the protection of the environment. Both judicial and legislative processes have applied the yardstick of ‘Strict or Absolute Liability’ to judge the conduct of the polluters. A toxic tort is a special type of personal injury lawsuit in which the plaintiff claims that exposure to a chemical caused the plaintiff’s toxic injury or disease. Strict liability for ultra-hazardous activities might also be considered a general principle of law as it is found in the national law of many states in relation to ultra-hazardous activities. Under the English law,’ a person who for his own purposes brings on his own land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape’ as laid down by the landmark judgment of Ryland v. Fletcher

Absolute liability for the harm caused by industry engaged in hazardous and inherently dangerous activities is a newly formulated doctrine free from the exceptions to the strict liability rule in England. The Indian rule was evolved in MC Mehta v. Union of India, which was popularly known as the Oleum gas leak case. It was public interest litigation under Article 32 of the Indian constitution.

Under the Civil Procedure Code of 1908, civil suits against the perpetrators of public nuisance were allowed. By the amendment of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1976, the procedure was made easier for the general public to seek recourse in the civil court's Section 91 deals with Public Nuisances and other wrongful acts affecting the public.

Prior to the amendment in 1976 such suits were allowed only with the sanction of the Advocate General. Thus a modification was brought about to the standing requirement which had been an obstacle in civil actions against environmental degradation. This is an important instance of early relaxation of procedural rules in the wider context of developing Indian public interest litigation.

Order 1 Rule 8 under the Civil Procedure Code of 1908, as amended in 1976 complements the above section and is significant for environmental litigation in India. This rule permits one person to sue or defend on behalf of all having the same interest in what are known as representative suits over a single cause of action.

Where the interest of the community at large is affected, the court has the power to direct one person or few to represent the whole community so that members of a class should have a common interest in a common subject matter and a common grievance and the relief sought should be beneficial to all. This rule is an enabling provision and does not prevent an individual from pursuing the same matter on his own right to seek relief.


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