On the lines of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal

The Union Ministry of Law & Justice has in a letter to the Union Home Ministry called for appointment of a Fatal Incidents Claims Tribunal on the lines of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal in every district.

Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Law & Justice Sanjay Singh has written to Union Home Secretary R. K. Singh that the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) president Neelam Krishnamoorthy had in a letter to National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi “requested for a comprehensive stronger law to safeguard victims of man-made disasters and quoted the observations of the Supreme Court on the need for a comprehensive legislation dealing with tortuous liability of the State and its instrumentalities”.

Since the letter had been forwarded to the Ministry of Law & Justice, Dr. Singh wrote that “in cases of Constitutional torts, the Constitutional courts have awarded compensation to the victims but the need for explicit provisions for determining the compensation under various heads like loss of life, amenities of life, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses, future medical expenses, etc. is being felt for quite some time.”

In this regard the Ministry noted that in respect of fatal incidents arising due to fire, storage of dangerous, hazardous, inflammable, poisonous substances, materials and things, a legislation – “the Fatal Incidents & Liability of State & Other Legislation” – on the lines of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, “wherein the remedy available to the aggrieved persons is expeditious and cheap” may be considered.

Dr. Singh also noted that “the Fatal Incidents Claims Tribunal may be constituted on the lines of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals in every district to be presided over by a District Judge with the powers of the said Tribunal to regulate its own procedure”, just the way it was with the MACT under the Motor Vehicles Act instead of following the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Importantly, the Law Ministry also proposed that in the legislation “suitable provisions may also be provided for imposition of penalty by the Government on the private persons and concerns responsible for fatal incidents/accidents resulting in loss of life and injuries”.

Talking to The Hindu, Ms. Krishmoorthy said there has also been progress in the issue at the end of the Law Commission, to which its representation was forwarded in September 2009. “The Law Commission has published on its website a consultation paper on man-made disasters to bring in a new legislation to deal with the issue,” she added.

In Para 22, the Commission has stated that whether Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code can at all be invoked in law in such cases is in the realm of doubt. Hence it has suggested that the punishment under Section 304A be appropriately enhanced to five years or more.

Ms. Krishnamoorthy said AVUT has suggested an appropriate legislation to tackle such man-made calamities and to put in place an appropriate investigative and judicial mechanism that compels future offenders to think twice before indulging in acts of omission or commission that can endanger human life.

The organisation has suggested a separate section under IPC so that in case of any man-made tragedy in future the perpetrators can be booked under the said section. “Not only should adequate punishment be prescribed for the offenders but care must also be taken that the punishment is of such a nature and degree that it has the necessary preventive effect.”

AVUT had also suggested that the law should provide for exemplary/punitive damages which would act as a deterrent. This course has been adopted in other jurisdictions. The consultation paper does not mention anything about punitive damages.

It has also suggested that these cases should be taken up by fast track courts to provide speedy justice to victims.

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