The government-appointed committee which probed the Styrene vapour leak at LG Polymers at Visakhapatnam on May 7, pointed out 21 instances of negligence and failure of the management, 19 violations of rules and acts, and held LG Polymers liable under seven Central and state laws.
The committee headed by Special Chief Secretary (Environment, Forests, S&T) Neerabh Kumar Prasad submitted its report on July 6. The Committee stated that LG Polymers bore criminal liability under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for causing deaths due to negligence. It held it liable under Petroleum Act, 1934 and Manufacture, Storage, Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules for not conducting a mock drill of the on-site emergency plan every six months and recommended that Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation take action against LG Polymers.
The company has also been held liable under Factories Act, 1948, and the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996 for using a faulty storage tank and not training staff properly in the handling of Styrene. The committee sought action against LG Polymers by the Department of Factories, AP.
The committee stated that LG Polymers bore liability under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for the Styrene vapour leak which caused deaths of humans and animals and harmed the environment. It has recommended action to be taken against the company by Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change; AP Pollution Control Board; and Director of Factories. It also held it liable under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (by APPCB) for the emission of pollutant into the atmosphere in excess of the standards laid down by the state.
“The AP Pollution Control Board must examine the failure to comply and contravene provisions of the Air Act, 1981 by LG Polymers under the provisions of Section 37 and Section 39 read with Section 40 of Air Act, 1981 and other relevant Sections and take the necessary action as per the law,’’ the committee observed.
The committee also held LG polymers liable under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Andhra Pradesh Fire Service Act, 1999, and recommended action to be taken by APPCB and by AP State Disaster Response and Fire Services Department respectively.
The committee wrote a separate section on “Liability of LG Polymers as per Environmental Jurisprudence.’’
The committee cited the Bhargava Committee set up by the Supreme Court which affixed an absolute and non-delegable duty on the Polluter (Industrial Unit) to the community, to ensure that no harm results to anyone on account of its activity. “In other words, if any harm does result from the activity of the Polluter, then the enterprise is absolutely liable to compensate for such harm, and it is no answer to say that it had taken all reasonable care or that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part,’’ the committee stated.
It also referred to a landmark SC judgement on the concept of absolute liability. According to the rule of absolute liability, if any person is engaged in an inherently dangerous or hazardous activity, and if any harm is caused to any other person due to an accident which occurred while carrying out such inherently dangerous and hazardous activity, then the person who is carrying out such activity will be held absolutely liable.
The LG Polymers is also accountable under the Precautionary Principle for remedying the damage caused. The Precautionary Principle further leads to the requirement, that LG Polymers, being the generator of pollution and causing damage to the environment bears the burden of proof. In this case, due to the uncontrolled Styrene vapour release from LG Polymers, the negligence by the LG Polymers is clear. Thus, it is absolutely liable to compensate for harms caused by the accident.
As per the Polluter Pays Principle and Precautionary Principle, the absolute liability for harm extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also for the cost of restoring the environmental degradation caused by the accident, the report states.
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