Need for comprehensive law to deal with tortious liability: SC

The Supreme Court has stressed on the need for a comprehensive legislation on liability of state authorities in dealing with tragedies caused by negligence while upholding an apex consumer commission's order involving a Vadodara civic body in the 1993 boat capsize in which 22 people died.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has stressed on the need for a comprehensive legislation on liability of state authorities in dealing with tragedies caused by negligence while upholding an apex consumer commission's order involving a Vadodara civic body in the 1993 boat capsize in which 22 people died.

"We reiterate the need for a comprehensive legislation dealing with tortious liability of the state and its instrumentalities in such cases for certainty on the subject," a bench headed by Justice V Gopala Gowda said.

The bench also requested the Law Commission to look into the matter and take necessary steps.

Upholding the liability of Vadodara municipal corporation, the bench said not only constitutional courts have to uphold claims arising out of loss of life or liberty but in private law remedies, just and fair claims of citizens, against public bodies have to be upheld and compensation have to be awarded.

The apex court dismissed the appeals filed by Vadodara Municipal Corporation, Oriental Insurance Company Ltd and Ripple Aqua Sports, challenging the order of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) against the award of compensation for the death of 22 people by drowning in Sursagar Lake at Vadodara while riding the boat.

The lake was under the control of Vadodara Municipal Corporation while Ripple Aqua Sports was the contractor to ply boats in the lake.

On August 11, 1993, against the capacity of 20 people, 38 passengers were allowed to ride in the boat, which capsized resulting in death of 22 passengers.

The victims first approached the state commission in March 30, 1994 claiming compensation. The state commission allowed the claims and held that even a public authority exercising statutory power was not exempted from liability for negligent actions.

The state commission held Aqua Sports and the Corporation to be jointly and severely liable and determined the quantum of compensation ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.10,76,000 in respect of claims for death of 22 passengers.

The decision of the state commission was upheld by the NCDRC, with the enhancement in quantum of compensation in some of the cases.

The apex court observed that it was not in dispute that the boat was carrying 38 passengers as against the capacity of 22 passengers.

"Neither any life guards were deployed nor any life saving jackets were provided to the passengers," the bench said, adding that the finding of negligence recorded by the state commission and the NCDRC, does not call for any interference.  

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