Indian Express Explained 11/05/2020

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1) Explained: Strict liability rule that NGT wants to apply in Vizag gas leak case:-

Background:- Styrene Gas leak incident at a chemical factory in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam, the National Green Tribunal slapped an interim penalty of Rs 50 crore on LG Polymers India“.

The NGT order said: “Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry.”

The rule of strict liability, which has been applied around the world in both civil and criminal law, first evolved in the 1868 British case Rylands vs Fletcher. The use of the term strict liability has been questioned by the lawyers because it was made redundant in India by the Supreme Court in 1987.

Strict Liability Principle:
Under it, a party/company is not liable and need not pay compensation if a hazardous substance escapes its premises by accident or by an ‘act of God’ (Force Majeure) among other circumstances.

Absolute Liability Principle:
Under it, a party/company in a hazardous industry cannot claim any exemption. It has to mandatorily pay compensation, whether or not the disaster was caused by its negligence.

In 1986, the Supreme Court in MC Mehta vs Union (known as the Oleum gas leak case) evolved its own rule of ‘absolute liability’– providing no exceptions for hazardous industries and holding them absolutely liable.

The National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 incorporates the absolute liability principle.
Section 17 of the act mandates that the Tribunal should apply the absolute liability principle even if the disaster caused is an accident.

A hazardous enterprise is liable even if the disaster is an accident and not caused by the negligence of the company.

2) Explained: Why Florence Nightingale matters today, how outbreak threatens her legacy

The 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing. Her relevance today cannot be understated, given the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nightingale (1820-1910), who had considerable mathematical skills, is credited with being the first healthcare professional to use data to show that infection control improves health outcomes. 

LEGACY :- Her signature effort came during the Crimean War (1854-56), when she answered a government call for nurses and took a posting as ‘Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the English General Hospitals in Turkey’. This is where she earned the name ‘Lady with the Lamp’, for walking around patients’ beds at night, holding a lamp. This also where she did her pioneering work with statistics.

When she arrived, diseases such as cholera and typhus were rife in the hospitals. Nightingale collected data, calculated the mortality rate, and showed that an improvement of sanitary methods would reduce the number of deaths. The mortality rate dropped from 60% to 42.7% by February 1855, and to 2.2% by the spring, according to the St Andrews archive.

Her Methodology of Representing medicinal facts using wedge diagrams was called Polar Ara Diagram.

3)Explained: What labour law changes mean:- Estimates vary but there are over 200 state laws and close to 50 central laws. And yet there is no set definition of “labour laws” in the country.

These can be divided into 4 types of Labour laws:-

The main objectives of the Factories Act, for instance, are to ensure safety measures on factory premises, and promote health and welfare of workers. The Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, on the other hand, aims to regulate hours of work, payment, overtime, weekly day off with pay, other holidays with pay, annual leave, employment of children and young persons, and employment of women.

The Minimum Wages Act covers more workers than any other labour legislation. The most contentious labour law, however, is the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 as it relates to terms of service such as layoff, retrenchment, and closure of industrial enterprises and strikes and lockouts.

Why are labour laws often criticised? :-

  • Indian labour laws are often characterised as “inflexible” with onerous legal requirements, firms (those employing more than 100 workers) dither from hiring new workers because firing them requires government approvals. 
  • Organised sector is increasingly employing workers without formal contracts.
  • Others have also pointed out that there are too many laws, often unnecessarily complicated, and not effectively implemented. This has laid the foundation for corruption and rent-seeking.

Is that what is proposed by states like UP? :- As a matter of fact, no. UP, for instance, has summarily suspended almost all labour laws including the Minimum Wages Act. Some People are Calling it further exploitation because far from being a reform, which essentially means an improvement from the status quo, the removal of all labour laws will not only strip the labour of its basic rights but also drive down wages.

Wages are Going to Fall:- Even before the Covid-19 crisis, thanks to the deceleration in the economy, wage growth had been moderating. Moreover, there was always a wide gap between formal and informal wage rates. For example, a woman working as a casual labourer in rural India earns just 20% of what a man earns in an urban formal setting.

If all labour laws are removed, most employment will effectively turn informal and bring down the wage rate sharply. And there is no way for any worker to even seek grievance redressal.

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