Case Briefs

By Vivek Singh, Institute of Law, Nirma University

Editor’s NoteCase Briefs on Chellamma v. KSEB, D.P. Choudhary v. Kumari Manjulata and M.C. Mehta v. Union of India.

1. CHELLAMMA v. K.S.E.B

Facts

Sivaraman was walking on the road in the morning and when he reached near a transformer he saw Abdul Salam trapped near a link-pipe at the bottom of 11 K. V. transformer, crying for help. On hearing this Sivaraman rushed to rescue and caught hold of Abdul after which they fell on the ground due to electric shock. Then both of them were taken to a hospital where Abdul survived but Sivaraman succumbed to death. A few days prior to the occurrence, local people had observed sparking and same matter was reported to defendant Assistant Executive Electrical Engineer but nothing was done otherwise the accident could have been prevented. Hence the incident took place on account of gross negligence of the employees of the Kerala State Electricity Board (K.S.E.B). So his wife filed a suit against K.S.E.B. Plaintiff 1 is Sivaraman’s widow and Plaintiff 2 to 5 are his children. A total claim of Rs. 75, 000 was made and this was calculated under the heads of loss of earnings, loss of consortium on part of Sivaraman’s widow, loss of love and affection on part of his children, loss of future prospects for 2nd plaintiff who had attained marriageable age and pain and suffering sustained by the deceased who was fully conscious until his death.

The lower court dismissed the suit as the plaintiffs had failed to show that the accident occurred on account of the negligent act of the defendants. The defendant’s had asked for the dismissal of the suit as the claim is excessive and they are not liable because

  • only authorized employees of KSEB were entitled to handle the transformer after wearing rubber gloves and Abdul Salam is an illegal and unauthorized user
  • KSEB had taken apt precautionary measures by fixing a danger board on the transformer giving a warning of the risk to the public
  • willful and unauthorized act on part of Abdul Salam and contributory negligence on part of Sivaraman
  • no person from the locality can complained before regarding any issue with the working of the transformer.

The plaintiffs for claiming the amount of compensation file the appeal in the Kerela H.C.

Issues

  1. Whether KSEB would be liable to compensate the plaintiffs?

Judgment

  1. The appeal was allowed and the plaintiff was awarded Rs. 75,000 with the interest at the rate of 6% per annum.
  2. In the case of Madhya Pradesh Electric Board v. Shail Kumar the S.C. observed that In M.C.Mehta v. Union of India, 1987 this Court has gone even beyond the rule of strict liability by holding that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm is caused on any one on account of the accident in the operation of such activity, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate those who are affected by the accident; such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions to the principle of strict liability under the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher. As the KSEB was involved in such an inherently dangerous activity it is absolutely liable for any damage caused.

The very fact that the link-pipe became live shows that there was earth leakage to prevent which a circuit breaker ought to have been installed. If on touching an electrical apparatus a person gets an electric shock, it is technically known as earth leakage whereupon the system should trip so that precious lives can be saved. The purpose of an earth leakage circuit breaker is to prevent such tragedies. If the Board had taken such a precaution, the transformer would not have posed a potential threat to anyone who chanced to come into contact with the transformer. No doubt, it was for the authorised personnel of the KSEB to carry out repairs, if any, on the transformer. But then, all that deceased Sivaraman did was only to save Abdul Salam who was found receiving an electric shock from the foot of the transformer. Sivaraman did not, and could not, know the reason for Abdul Salam sustaining the electric shock. While Abdul Salam was wearing slippers, Sivaraman who came that way and attempted to rescue Abdul Salam was bare-footed. So Sivaraman became a victim of the electrocution whereas Abdul Salam who was wearing slippers escaped.

2. D.P. CHOUDHARY AND ORS. V. KUMARI MANJULATA

Facts

Kumari Manjulata is the daughter of Mohan Singh. She was aged about 17 years and was living with her parents and brother. They are all educated and were regarded very high because of it. Durga Prasad was the principal Editor of Dainik Navjyoti and the Managing Editor and Publisher of the same worked under him. They are, responsible for publication of false and defamatory news in the daily newspaper. On 18-12-77, Dainik Navjyoti published a news regarding Manjulata with unfair comments and false imputations. The news item was basically untrue and was published negligently with utter irresponsibility and maliciously which created hatred against Manjulata and she was ridiculed. The news item was published in order to dishonour Manjulata and her family members. By publication of this news item Manjulata was defamed. It created problems for arranging for her marriage. She was shocked and was ridiculed by persons who knew her. She suffered from inferiority complex because of the publication of this news. Parents of Manjulata also suffered disrespect in the society as the news item was defamatory. A notice was given to the Editor but was unheeded. A sum of Rs. 10,100/- was claimed as damages along with 12% interest. The Newspaper authorities submitted their written statement alleging that they do not know the plaintiff personally and the news was collected by its reporter. The news item was correct and was collected from a reliable source. There was no intention to defame of harass the plaintiff. Notice was denied. It was further averred in the written statement that at the time of presentation of the suit, Manjulata was major. She did not exercise her option; therefore, the suit was not maintainable. The appellant submitted that the news item is based on correct facts and it is not false. He submitted that the correspondent who is himself an advocate had not only received the information from the police station but had verified from the mother of the plaintiff. He submitted that there was no mala fide on the part of the newspaper or the correspondent. He sent the report to the newspaper with the intention that in case the persons knowing Manjulata would read the news, they would send her back to her parents. From the evidence on record it is proved that the news was not verified from the mother of Manjulata as was alleged by him. Also, he was never asked by anyone of the family members of Manjulata to do so. The law as regards defamation is that if defamatory words are published, they are presumed to be false and the burden to prove that they are not so is upon the defendant. So from the evidence produced on behalf of the defendant it is not so proved.

Judgment

Earlier in this case, the Additional District Judge he decreed the suit of defamation awarding Rs. 10,000/- as damages to the respondent. The following judgment is the result of a civil appeal against the Additional District judge’s decree. From the statements of Manjulata, her mother and other witnesses it was borne out that the news item published in the newspaper was false. Manjulata was cross-examined at length and an attempt had been made to suggest in the cross-examination that the news item did not relate to her but during the arguments no such attempt was made before the High Court Judge or before the lower Court. The news was definitely related to Manjulata, plaintiff respondent. Learned counsel for the appellant rightly did not touch this point.  If a false news item is published in a Newspaper, whosoever reads it he has his own reservations about person about whom a false report is published. The object of law of defamation is to protect an individual’s interest in his reputation. It is no defence in a suit for defamation that the defendant did not intend to injure the plaintiffs reputation, if, in fact, it has been injured. Even if the defendant bonafidely believed in the truth of the words published, he will still be liable unless the defence of privilege is raised.It is proved from the evidence of Manjulata and her witnesses that her reputation has lowered down, marriage proposals were dropped, she underwent mental tensions and her character was assassinated. The evidence led by plaintiff and her witnesses was sufficient to lower down the prestige of Manjulata. It has been stated on behalf of the appellant that there was no malice against the plaintiff respondent. Needless to say that in such cases a man may be liable although he had not a particle of malice against the person defamed. The intention or motive with which the words were employed is, as a rule, immaterial.

The court below was right in deciding the case in favour of Manjulata. The appeal was dismissed.

3. M.C. MEHTA V. UNION OF INDIA

Facts

  • A writ petition under Art 32 of the Constitution has been brought before the SC by way of PIL on 1985 for the closure of Sriram on the ground of health hazard and for laying down principle and norms for determining the liability of the large enterprises engaged in manufacture and sale of hazardous products.
  • A question was raised sometimes in March 1985 in parliament in regard to possibility of major leakage of Liquid chlorine from the Caustic Unit of Shriram and of danger to the lives of thousands of workers and other
  • The writ petition was pending on 4th and 6th December 1985 there was escape of Oleum gas from one of the units of Sriram and as a result of such leakage several persons were affected and according to the petitioner and the Delhi Bar Association, one Advocate practicing in the Tis Hazari Courts died.
  • Application were filed by the Delhi Legal Aid and advice Board and the Delhi Bar Association for award of compensation to the person who had suffered harm on account of escape of Oleum Gas.

Issues

The first issue in contention was whether the caustic chlorine plant of shriram should be allowed to restart the plant and if so, subject to what conditions keeping in mind that the operation of the plant should no longer pose a hazard or risk to the community.

The second issue brought forth to discuss was whether shriram which manufactures and is engaged in the production of hazardous substances at the cost of environment of human n life should be held absolutely liable

The third issue is whether Shriram could be considered to be a state within the ambit of article 12?

The fourth issue raised was whether the application for compensation filed under the article 21 is available against shriram which is owned by Delhi cloth mills limited a private corporation and which is engaged in an industry vital to public interest and with potential to affect the life and health of the people.

Judgment

The Court held that as Sriram could not be subjected to the discipline under Article 21, the enterprise having not been decided as “Authority” within Art 12 of the constitution and accordingly directed the Legal Aid and Advise Board and the Delhi Bar Association to Approach the appropriate Courts to Claim compensation for the victims of the Oleum Gas Escape.

Edited by Hariharan Kumar

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