The Madras High Court at Madurai Bench applied the principle of 'Absolute Liability' and directed the Tamil Nadu government to pay compensation of Rs. 10 Lakh each to two minor boys who suffered severe burn injuries in an explosion of firecrackers which were illegally disposed of near a water body in Sivakasi, a place well known hub of fire industries.

The Bench of Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed that the local bodies had the statutory duty to take care of public health and safety and if there was anything noxious or toxic or capable of causing nuisance or danger, the local body was obliged to cause its removal.

“It is beyond dispute that hazardous waste was dumped near the water body in question. The children were obviously unaware of the real character or potential of the dumped material. Being school going boys, they were conducting themselves in a natural manner. Throwing of stones by children in the aforesaid surroundings and in the aforesaid manner can by no stretch of imagination be characterized as voluntarily courting danger. They could hardly be imputed with knowledge that the garbage dump would contain hazardous waste.” observed the Court.

In this case, two boys were playing by throwing stones into the water body when few of the stones hit a garbage dumped near it. An explosion occurred as firecrackers had been illegally disposed of there and they suffered serious physical and psychological damage as the burn injuries had caused permanent disfigurement of their faces.

A plea was moved by the parents of the two boys wherein they sought that the State be held liable for the accident and that fair compensation be paid to them.

Advocate S. Muniyandi appeared for the petitioner and Special Government Pleader B. Thanga Aravindh appeared for the respondent 1 & 2, Government Advocate (crl.side) appeared for respondent 3 & 4.

The Court said that the police officer-respondent no. 4 had failed to conduct proper investigation as it was his duty to find out who was responsible for dumping the hazardous waste and even the Sivakasi Municipality was under the statutory obligation to take precautions against fire and related accidents.

The Court remarked “In my view, the approach of the jurisdictional police reeks of laziness and indifference.”

The Court cited Rule 16 of Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 and Section 8 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and observed that “one can easily conclude that the State is under a statutory obligation to ensure that hazardous substances are handled in such a manner that the general safety of the public is not endangered. This would include the duty to ensure that hazardous wastes are dealt with in a manner as prescribed by the Rules. In the case on hand, these Rules have been brazenly breached. While the private persons are obviously the violators, the duty to ensure that there is no breach of the Rules is on the State. These are matters in which the principle of absolute liability has to be applied. The authorities have miserably failed to monitor the manner of disposal. The negligence on the part of the authorities is responsible for the occurrence.”

The Court further noted that no amount of compensation could give back what they had lost, their friendship and studies suffered and even their marital prospects had become a serious question mark.

Therefore, the Court directed the State a sum of Rs. 10 lakhs each to the victims and if the victims required to undergo plastic surgery, then they must be treated on a preferential basis in a government hospital.

Accordingly, the petition was allowed.

Cause Title- Sankareswari v. The District Collector & Ors.

Click here to read/download the Order