Mangesh G. Salodkar v. Monsanto Chemicals of India Ltd.

CITATION2007 (2) BomCR 883
COURTHigh Court of Bombay
JUDGES/CORAMJustice R. Vyas and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud
DATE OF JUDGEMENT13.07.2006

Introduction

The case is relating to a grievance of an employee working in the defendant’s factory thus implying the Factories Act.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Mangesh Gopal Salodkar was employed at Monsanto’s establishment at Lonavala and after his retirement, he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The total cost of hospitalization was bored by the Company and ex-gratia amount was also paid to Salodkar. The grievance of the Petitioner is that the operation and working of Monsanto’s plants are so hazardous that healthy employees in the productive age group like him have been afflicted with lifelong debilitation and disease.

The Petitioner contends that almost all pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides have been proved to be dangerous to human health. The Petitioner relies upon several studies to establish that pesticides lead to an increased risk of cancer, spontaneous abortion, genetic damage, infertility, liver and pancreatic damage, and neuropathy, disturbances to immune systems, stillbirths and decreased sperm counts. The Petitioner has alleged that Monsanto has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being a “potentially responsible party “for no fewer than 93 contaminated sites (Superfund Sites) in the U.S. In 1986, a U.S. District Court found Monsanto liable in the death of a Texas employee from leukemia caused by exposure to benzene, which is a carcinogen and many other instances where the Courts in the USA has found the company guilty was relied on by the petitioner.

The Petitioner’s allegation is that the plant at Lonavala was run by Monsanto in a shoddy fashion. The plant faced serious constraints of space and problems with regard to the storage of chemicals and the disposal of hazardous residue. According to the Petitioner, the plant was not designed to the specifications of the Factories Act, 1948, or the Insecticides Act, 1968. Ventilation and exhaust systems were poor and the mixing of chemicals was carried out in open furnaces, exposing the staff at the plant to serious risks. The forty-five employees engaged at Lonavala worked in poor conditions and it is alleged that at least four of them contracted Tuberculosis while others suffered from ailments of a varying degree. According to the Petitioner, the plant at Silvassa was also run in a haphazard manner: exhaust systems were inadequate and employees were made to work with concentrated chemicals for twelve hours at a stretch though this is prohibited in high-risk chemical industries. One member of the staff, who is named, is alleged to have suffered a heart attack within six months of his transfer to the Silvassa plant and the post mortem report upon his death revealed that the employee had died due to “cardio-respiratory failure associated with Brain Haemorrhage resulting in undiagnosed diseases in the body.

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The Petitioner has relied upon the principle of absolute liability and has submitted before the Court that Monsanto must bear the liability and costs consequential upon the ill-health of its employees, past, present, and future.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether the manufacture of formulations of these chemicals is liable to be considered as hazardous and dangerous exposing the workers and other employees to serious health and environmental problems or not?

Summary of court decision and judgment

This petition initially originated in an individual grievance of an employee who claimed to have suffered neurological damage while working in the hazardous processes of a factory establishment. The inquiry before the Court was expanded into litigation in the public interest covering a broader group of employees and concerns wider than the working conditions of a particular factory. The problems which the case confronts are systemic. They reflect a malaise that afflicts the regime of regulatory compliance in India. The inquiry by the Commissioner appointed by the Court has revealed deficiencies in the implementation of statutory standards of which we have taken serious note.

In so far as the ground of relief for the individual employee was concerned, the material which was collected painstakingly by Mr. Justice D.R. Dhanuka has led the Learned Commissioner to conclude that a nexus between the medical condition of the workman concerned with acts of commission or omission on the part of the employer has not been established. The report of the Commissioner and the underlying material before him does establish serious deficiencies in the past on the part of the employer in the present case in maintaining records and in following a sustained line of investigation while enquiring into the medical problems of the workers. However, both Dr. Saiyed and Justice Dhanuka note that there has been a marked improvement in the standards which are now being observed by the employer.

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This Court is conscious of the fact that the jurisdiction under Article 226 is subject to self-imposed restraints wisely conceived and consistently followed over the last five decades. In a Public Interest Litigation, the High Court can in appropriate cases relax the requirement of standing or locus standi. But the jurisdiction which the Court exercises in a PIL is subject to the same restraints which are observed in the exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 226.

The Court accordingly disposed of the case.

Analysis

The right to health is interpreted as a part and parcel of Article 21 – Right to Life thereby making it a fundamental right of the citizens of the country and absolute duty of the government to ensure that the health of the people is not compromised by any of their action or negligence to take action. The present case has rightfully held the significance of the right to health and directed an enquiry into the matter which brought forward a few discrepancies which can be improved.

Although the judgment delivered is correct but the Court failed to hold liable the authority empowered and made responsible under the factories Act to conduct regular inspections of the premises of the factories, its machinery, the status of the employees, their medical records, etc. have failed to conduct his/her duties.

Conclusion

Every right of a person imposes a co-related duty on others. It is a basic concept of jurisprudence accepted universally and justice is said to be done when the right is protected or compensation for abridgment of the right is accorded while penalty or punishment is imposed on the one who didn’t perform its duty or abstained from honoring its duties. In this case, though the petitioner was compensated under the humanitarian aspect the officer in charge of doing regular inspection was let loose without even questioning his/her irresponsibility towards the duty.

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