• Incidents such as the recent Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) barge disaster underline the absence of effective class action suits/lawsuits in India.
  • 71 people were killed after Cyclone Tauktae damaged ONGC’s barge vessels off Bombay High.
  • Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited
  • It is a Maharatna Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) of the Government of India.
  • It was set up in 1995 and is under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
  • It is the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India, contributing around 70% to Indian domestic production.

Important points:

  • It is a case brought to court by a group representing a larger set of people, often in thousands, who have suffered the same loss. Such a group forms a class.
  • It derives from representative litigation, to ensure justice to the ordinary individual against a powerful adversary.
  • The accused in such cases usually are corporate entities or governments.
  • Generally, in class action suits, the damages paid may be small at an individual level or may not even be quantifiable.
  • The total damages calculated, however, could be large.
  • The difference between public interest litigation (Article 32 or Article 226 of the Constitution) and class action suits is that unlike a class action suit, a public interest litigation cannot be filed against a private party.


  • An immediate benefit is that the court has to hear only one case and not several. This reduces the chance of similar cases clogging the already overburdened courts.
  • As not everyone has the means or time to pursue a legal case, a small group of people with funds or the ability to raise money can bring justice to other victims who may be disadvantaged.
  • Companies are reluctant to face such suits as it affects their brand image. They prefer settling such cases faster to minimize the damage to their reputation.
  • An advantage for the accused parties, however, is that they have to deal with only one case.


  • Tort law has not developed sufficiently in India for a number of reasons, primarily due to the high cost and time-consuming nature of litigation.
  • The rules of the Bar Council of India do not allow lawyers to charge contingency fees, i.e., a percentage of the damages claimants receive if they win a case.
  • This disincentives lawyers from appearing in time-consuming cases that class action suits inevitably are.
  • Since litigation costs are high, class action suits can be made easier by allowing external parties to fund or sponsor the cost of litigation.
  • Some states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka have made changes in the Civil Procedure Code to allow this.

Way Forward

  • India should move in the direction of such accountability, which is taken seriously in developed economies, and which makes them better abodes for employment and business.
  • Lawyers should be incentivised for taking such cases, it will be a good first step in bringing class action suits into the mainstream.
  • Class action suits are necessary if India is to improve its ease of doing business rankings, especially in disaster prevention and risk of life.


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