Suprme Court stresses on a law to fix tort liability

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In an attempt to fix tort liability on government agencies, the Supreme Court of India has directed the Law Commission to examine the need for a comprehensive regulation. This in turn will oblige the agencies to award damages in case of accidents.

It needs special mention that torts are civil wrongs and the law recognizes them as ground for a lawsuit. A failure to do so can cause someone to suffer great loss or harm and ultimately result in a legal liability which is redressed by awarding damages. Some countries like UK, USA and Australia have special laws on torts, but India lacks one. Rather, the Indian courts depend on a variety of statures to entertain claims that arise in cases of deaths. Examples include Delhi’s 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy, the 1984 Bhopal Gas leak, Kolkata’s AMRI hospital fire in the year 2011 and several other incidents.

A bench of Justices consisting V Gopala Gowda and Adarsh Kumar Goel held that the statutory authorities and the local bodies are responsible for maintaining a degree of care. They must always come up with compensation for a person who faces such losses. The bench further added that the High Courts and the Supreme Court were duty bound to uphold claims that arise from loss of life or liberty if statutory duties of public authorities are violated.

“Where activity of a public body is hazardous, highest degree of care is expected and breach of such duty is actionable. This obligation is also referable to Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution. We reiterate the need for a comprehensive legislation dealing with tortuous liability of the state…..in such cases for certainty of the subject”, the bench added.

The order was passed as the court rejected an appeal against an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). The order held Vadodara Municipal Corporation, Oriental Insurance Company and the proprietor of Ripple Aqua Sports as guilty of malfeasance.