Supreme Court has observed that if damage to a party has resulted from two or three causes, namely, from an act of God as well as a negligent act of a party, the award of damages can be apportioned to compensate only the injury that can be attributed to the negligence of the party.
Apex Court bench made this observation while disposing of an appeal by certain land owners whose property was flooded due to the release of water from a dam. The Court invoking Article 142 of the Constitution has awarded five lakh as compensation to them.
Due to heavy monsoon rains, the Dam owners had to release the water from the dam as it reached alarming level because of heavy rains and non-release would have breached the dam. The land owners who suffered loses approached the Court by filing the suit for damages. The trial court and the High Court were of the view that the damage occurred is due to ‘act of god’ and the dam owners are not liable to compensate the loss occurred to them.
DAM OWNERS FAILED TO DISCHARGE BURDEN OF PROOF TO SHOW SUFFICIENT CARE WAS TAKEN
The appellants contended that authorities did not keep the level of water in the dam sufficiently low to take care of the ensuing monsoon rains.The court observed: “The only defence put up by them was that the overflow of the water in the dam was occasioned by the rains in the monsoon season which compelled the authorities to release the water from the dam in larger public interest. In such a scenario, it was incumbent upon the respondents to demonstrate, by adequate evidence, that the water in the dam was kept at reasonable and proper level to take care of normal rains; the rains in the said monsoon season were more than the ordinary rains which could not be foreseen; and that the public purpose was served in taking the decision to release the water which prevented larger catastrophe”
Referring to Rylands v. Fletcher,the Court further said: “It is a matter of common knowledge that with advanced technology available with the Meteorological Department in the form of satellite signals etc, there is a possibility of precise prediction of the extant of rainfall in the monsoon season. In view of the principle laid down in Rylands v. Fletcher, onus was on the respondents to discharge such a burden, and it has miserably failed to discharge the same. On that basis, we are constrained to hold that there is a negligence on the part of the respondents which caused damage to the fields of the appellants.
BOTH ‘ACT OF GOD’ AND NEGLIGENCE
The court observed that the land owners have not given any proof of the damages occurred and said:Where a wrong has been committed, the wrong-doer must suffer from the impossibility of accurately ascertaining the amount of damages. Likewise, the party claiming compensation must give the best evidence to prove damages. In the instant case, we find that the loss is not only on account of rain, though a part thereof can be attributed to the nature, but also due to the negligence on the part of the respondent authorities in not taking due precautions in time which could have avoided some loss/damage, if not entirely. If damage has resulted from two or three causes, namely, from an act of God as well as a negligent act of a party, the award of damages can be apportioned to compensate only the injury that can be attributed to the negligent act of the respondents.
Read the Judgment here.