For the last eight years, she has been trying to seek compensation for the death of her only minor son due to collapse of an entrance arch of a panchayat office in August 2004.

Writ petitions generally gather dust for years together in the Madras High Court Bench here.

But when taken up for final disposal, they do make a difference as it happened in the case of M. Saraswathi, a poor and illiterate widow made to run from pillar to post for the last eight years seeking compensation for the death of her only minor son due to collapse of an entrance arch of a panchayat office in August 2004.

Disposing of a writ petition filed by her in 2006, Justice S. Manikumar directed the Revenue Secretary, Tiruchi district administration as well as the president of Valadi panchayat to pay her a compensation of Rs. 3.15 lakh within two months along with interest at the rate of 7.5 per cent from the date of accident.

The petitioner was directed to deposit the amount in a nationalised bank close to her residence and utilise the principal amount as well as interest for her livelihood.

The judge passed the order after being moved by the sight of the petitioner present in court along with her counsel who represented that after the matter was taken up for final disposal, the incumbent panchayat president had approached the petitioner for negotiations.

He had offered to pay a total compensation of Rs. 50,000 and gave away Rs. 25,000 immediately.

The counsel’s submission was also endorsed by an Additional Government Pleader.

Counter affidavit

Though the panchayat as well as the Collector had not filed any counter affidavit in the last six years, the judge said that the offer made by the panchayat president itself was a sufficient proof for admission of vicarious liability on the part of the government.

“In view of the admission and conduct of the panchayat, this court is of the view that the accident has occurred purely due to the negligence of the panchayat officials in not maintaining the entrance arch or wall properly,” the judge held.

Expressing displeasure over the attitude of the district administration in not responding to the plea made by the petitioner for compensation despite having acknowledged receipt of a representation made by her, the judge said:

“It is unfortunate that the district administration has remained quiet all along… The respondents ought to have perceived the pain and suffering of the mother and taken appropriate action against those who were responsible for the negligence.”

The judge included the Revenue Secretary suo motu as a party to the case and said that the compensation of Rs. 50,000 offered by the panchayat president, as part of an out of court settlement, was not commensurate with the value of life as the widow’s only son was 12 years old and studying in Standard VII in a Government High School at the time of his death.

The accident had occurred when he was coming out of the panchayat office after spending time in a library situated inside the premises.

“Poverty and illiteracy ought not to have been taken advantage of by the president of Valadi panchayat as bargaining factors for estimating the loss of life…

He failed to consider that money cannot bring back her son.

But then, the reparation should at least be just and reasonable,” the judge said and fixed the compensation at Rs.3.15 lakh by following a judgement rendered by the Supreme Court in a similar case of negligence in 2009.

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