Applicability of Rylands Rule in India

The rule of strict liability is applicable in India, however, with certain deviations. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, recognizes liability of the owner or insurer of the vehicle, without proof of any negligence (`no fault liability’). Under the Indian Railways Act, 1961 and Carriers Act, 1865, the railways /carriers can be made liable even if there is no negligence on their part.

The principle of Rylands v Fletcher is followed in several Indian cases.

Ramnath v Kalanath ILR 1950 Nag 509 – When a person constructs a dam on his land which has the effect of diverting the water from its natural channel on to the land of a neighbour and damage to neighbour’s property results, he is liable to his neighbour An owner of property has no right to let off water which has naturally accumulated therein even for the purpose of protecting his property if this will have the effect of transferring his misfortune to the property of another.

State of Mysore v Ramchandra (1970) 73 Born LR 732 – The State Government erected a reservoir adjoining the plaintiffs’ land in order to provide drinking water facilities to a village in the State. Due to very heavy rainfall the water from the reservoir overflowed and flowed over the plaintiffs’ land, causing considerable damage to the land and the crops standing thereon. Held that the fact that the danger materialized subsequently by an act of God was not a matter which absolved the State from its liability for the earlier negligence in that no proper channel for the flow or overflow of water from the waste-weir was constructed by it in time.

Madras Railway Co. v Zamindar of Carvetnagaram (1874) 1 I.A. 364 (P.C.) In this case there was escape of water as a consequence of bursting of two ancient tanks situated on the respondent’s zamindari. These tanks, which had been in existence since ages, existed not merely for the benefit of the Zamindar, but also for the benefit of his ryots (villagers). The escaping water caused damage to the appellant’s property. It was held that because of peculiar Indian conditions, the escape of water collected for agricultural purposes might not be subject to strict liability. The owner on whose land such water is collected is liable only if he is negligent A similar view was taken in N. Narrryana Bhattathrippad v Travancore Govt (AIR 1966 Travco. 225).