The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has dismissed an appeal by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) against an order by a lower body that imposed heavy damages on the company after faulty fixation of gas-tube led to an explosion at the premises of a customer.
HPCL and its gas agency were told to pay Rs 2.25 lakh in damages and Rs 25,000 in terms of compensation to V Venkateshwar Reddy, a resident of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, though both of them tried to shift the responsibility for the accident from themselves.
On 2.8.1996 in the morning, the Reddy lodged a complaint with Gowri Shankar Gas Agencies about leakage of gas from his pipe. The gas agency deputed a mechanic who cut the tube and fixed it again into the stove.
Next day, early morning at 2.00 a.m., there was an explosion in the kitchen which caused heavy damage to the house, creating cracks in the doors, walls, roof, bathroom etc.. The regulator had blown up to the roof breaking kitchen chimney, according to the complaint.
Both HPCL and the gas agency argued that the explosion was not caused by any fault of theirs.
The gas agency said the pipe was fixed at 10.30 a.m. and the explosion occured after almost 15 hours. So, it said, the fault could not have been in how the repair was carried out.
HPCL, on its part, said it had a pre-existing agreement with its gas agency that the gas agency’s actions were as ‘principal’ and not as an agent of HPCL. As a result, the agency shall be responsible in respect of all contracts or agreements entered into by him with the customers for sale of LPG and matters related therewith.
In view of this, HPCL argued that only the dealer is liable and responsible for its acts of omission or commission, if any, and, therefore, no liability could be fastened on Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. for the same.
All the three levels of district courts dismissed the gas agency’s argument that said that the cause of the explosion has not been established.
For this, they relied on the testimony of C.S. Rajan, a professional Chemical Engineer.
He said the movement of the persons during the day time with open windows and the closer of the movements and the windows closing during the night time were the reason for the belated explosion due to any ignitions of the Refrigerator switches etc.
“The said probability being not dis-credit by the other side with any contra material, it remains not only convincing but also a more probable cause,” the courts noted.
HPCL too was not let off by the consumer courts. They noted that HPCL was the company that supplied the cylinder. And that there was a chance that the leakage was from the cylinder. As a result, HPCL cannot escape liability.
“The circumstantial evidence clearly goes to show that the explosion caused due to gas leakage and Ex. A8 clearly states that Opposite Party No. 1 (gas agency) with the help of Senior Sales Officer, H.P. Corporation destroyed the material evidence to shirk from their responsibility,” the Andhra Pradesh state consumer forum noted.
“Opposite Parties 1 & 2 (agency and HPCL) also failed to establish that the explosion occurred due to the reasons other than the gas leakage. According to the Survey conducted by Bharat Petroleum Corporation that 50% of cooking gas related accidents occurs because of leakages from tube. In view of the aforementioned reasons, we are inclined to accept that the explosion occurred due to gas leakage and caused extensive damage to the house of the complainant in the light of technical Material Safety Data Sheet issued by Bharat Petroleum which supports the contention of the complainant.”
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, comprising Justice VB Gupta and Suresh Chandra, exonerated New India Insurance Co Ltd — which was the insurer to the gas agency — from having to pay for the accident.