The Bombay high court recently pulled up the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) for abruptly suspending the dock facilities of James Macintosh and Company Pvt Ltd – the firm that was allegedly responsible for July 2010 chlorine leakage at the trust’s warehouse near Sewri, which left more than 100 persons hospitalised.
The ministry of shipping had set up an expert committee under the chairmanship of its joint secretary to inquire into the chlorine leakage episode.
The committee had recommended suitable action, including lodging FIR against M/s Agro Gases and James Macintosh and Company for alleged criminal negligence endangering the lives of general public, and suspending their facilities for next five years.
Accordingly on January 27, the MbPT suspended the dock facilities of the company. The decision, however, was communicated to it through one of its employees, who had gone for tender application for reserving a berth for one of its forthcoming vessels.
“In India, you cannot do this,” observed the bench comprising justice DK Deshmukh and justice KK Tated. “They [MbPT authorities] are arrogant, they just keep fermenting the litigation and don’t stop at any level. And when they do take a decision, they make a mess like this,” the judges added pointing to the complete absence of following the principles of natural justice before imposing the punishment on James Macintosh and Company.
The court observed that neither was a notice issued to the company nor were they provided with the expert committee’s report. Consequently, the bench set aside the punishment – of suspending the shipping company’s dock facilities for five years – imposed by the MbPT.
Company’s counsel, Dinyar Madan contended that MbPT had no power to impose such a punishment and further pointed out that the empty chlorine cylinders were lying in port trust area for nearly 120 years, but the port trust did nothing.
Counsel for the central government justified the action by pointing out that the company had stated that the cylinders were empty, when they contained some quantity of chlorine. Considering the argument, the court has given MbPT the liberty to initiate fresh action against the company.