16 Sep 2010

Electricity hazardous goods: High Court

Speaking in the context of liability under the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, the Allahabad High Court in a recently reported decision [U.P.Power Corporation Ltd. v. Kaleemullah, AIR 2010 All 117] has declared that electricity is also a hazardous substance and thus an accident caused due to electricity could come within the purview of the Act so as to claim compensation therein.

The Bench inter alia observed as under;
7. Section 2(d) of the Act defines “hazardous substance” and provides that it shall be same as defined under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. Section 2(e) of the Environmental Protection act, 1986 defines hazardous substance as follows :
“Hazardous substance means any substance or preparation which, by reasons of its Chemical or physicochemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, microorganism, property or the environment”.
“14. Section 3 of the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 states :
“3. Liability to give relief in certain cases on principle of no fault- (1) Where death or injury to any person (other than a workmen) or damage to any property has resulted from an accident, the owner shall be liable to give such relief as is specified in the Schedule for such death, injury or damage.
(2) In any claim for relief under sub-section (1) (hereinafter referred to in this Act as claim for relief) the claimant shall not be required to plead and establish that the claim has been made was due to any wrongful act, neglect or default of any person.
(3) Explanation- for the purposes of this Section- (I) 'workman' has the meaning assigned to it in the workmen's Compensation Act 1923 (8 of 1923); (ii) 'injury' includes permanent total or permanent partial disability or sickness resulting out of an accident.”
15. A perusal of Section 3(i) shows that the owner is liable to pay damages to any person (other than workmen) where death or injury has resulted from an accident. The word accident has been defined in Section 2(A) of 1991 Act as follows :
“Accident” means an accident or incident occurring while handling any hazardous substance.”
16. The word “handling” has been defined in Section 2(c) of the 1991 Act as following :
“(c) handling”, in relation to any hazardous substance, means the manufacture, processing, treatment , package, storage transportation by vehicle, use, collection, destruction, conversion, offering for sale, transfer or the like of such hazardous.
17. Owner has been defined in Section 2(g) of 1991 Act as follows :
'Owner' means a person who has control over handling any hazardous substance.”
18. Section 3(2) incorporates the principle of strict liability regarding accidents due to hazardous substances, and this will be discussed later in this judgment.
19. Under Section 4 of the Act, the owner has to take out one or more insurance policies providing for contracts of insurance whereby he is insured against liability to give relief under sub-section (1) of Section 3.
8. Now, electricity may be called a hazardous substance. Electricity is the flow of free electrons in a particular direction at the particular moment. The flow can be any wire or even an atmosphere like lightening or in body or in other body. The electron is very small and it has been discovered by the scientist that an electron is a pins about an excess and it has got organic field. The electron is thus a material article and electricity is the flow of all these small material particulars in a particular direction. The flow consequently is the flow of a matter having physico chemical properties like when passed through water, it separates the hydrogen from the Oxygen atoms (electrolysis). Thus, the electricity is a substance having physico chemical process and also hazardous. Accordingly, it is a hazardous substance covered by definition under the Act vide AIR 1998 Allahabad 1 U.P. Electricity board and another versus District Magistrate, Dehradun and others.
9. Accordingly, the submission of the petitioner’s counsel that the electricity is not a hazardous substance is not sustainable.

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