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

2007 (2) BomCR 883
Download Judgment: English

The Respondent, Monsanto Chemicals of India, was engaged in the formulation of herbicides in India. In accordance with the Insecticide Act, 1968, the Respondent had been granted statutory approval by the Central Insecticides Board. Mangesh G. Salodkar, the Petitioner was employed at Monsanto’s establishment at Lonavala. Soon after taking voluntary retirement, he suffered a brain hemorrhage. The Respondent company reimbursed the Petitioner for medical expenses, even though he was retired at the time of the hemorrhage. The Respondent also made an ex-gratia payment to the Petitioner.

The Petitioner then filed a petition in the Bombay High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India (original jurisdiction of High Courts). The Petitioner contended that under the principle of absolute liability the Respondent should bear the liability and costs consequential upon the ill-health of all its employees.

The Court appointed a Commissioner to investigate into the matter and to arrive at a finding as to whether employees who had worked in the past or those who were working with the Respondent had suffered toxic exposure. The Court converted the matter to a public interest litigation deriving the authority to so from Article 226 of the Constitution.

On the implication of the right to health, the Court held that the State and the employer were under an obligation to create conditions of preservation and enjoyment of good health. It further held that the right to health was recognized as an integral part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The Court further held that the Commissioner’s report indicated that the statutory provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 (the Act), were not being implemented properly. It held that the Act gave expression to the State’s responsibility established under Article 43 of the Constitution to ensure proper working conditions. The Court noted that due to financial implications, workers refrain from complaining about working conditions. It, therefore, held that it was important that regulatory authority enforce “statutory standards designed to promote health, safety and welfare of workers.”

Based upon the Commissioner’s report, the Court recommended certain measures to be taken by the government towards the implementation of the relevant provisions of the Act. Measures suggested by the Court included, amongst others, increasing the number of Factory Inspectors and their proper training, regular medical checkups of the workers and appointment of Safety Officers in hazardous industries. It also held that no positive correlation had been established between the Respondent’s activities and the diseases of the employees. The Court referred the matter to mediation as in its opinion, matters involving human rights and socio-economic rights should be settled expeditiously through mediation.

“The Constitution guarantees the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Health is an integral facet of life. Absent good health, life is deprived of the rationale for existence. Deprive a worker of her health and she loses her means of livelihood…Support for the preservation and enjoyment of good health is hence an important obligation of the State and the employer. There can be no contracting out of such obligations.” Para. 14.

“In matters of workers’ safety, ignorance of rights is compounded by the economic necessity of sustaining livelihood. Economic necessity poses a serious constraint upon workers complaining about conditions of work. The regulatory authority entrusted with the task of enforcing statutory standards designed to promote health, safety and welfare of workers, therefore, has a vital role to play in the achievement of statutory norms.” Para. 19.