Death of pedestrian after falling into open drain

A team of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission has prima facie found that “gross negligence” on the part of the authorities concerned had led to the incident where a homemaker succumbed to injuries after falling into an open drain in Kozhikode.

K.E. Gangadharan, lawyer and senior member of the State’s human rights body, who visited the spot, said at least seven concrete slabs meant to cover the open drain were missing. Ayesha Bi was killed last Saturday night. He said the officials who had accompanied him failed to give any explanation.

The stretch from Pushpa Junction to Model School Road via Kozhikode Railway Station was one among 19 city roads listed for a “one-time maintenance” project costing Rs.40.19 crore.

Talking to The Hindu over the phone on Thursday, he said the death was tragic and unwarranted. “They replaced the missing slabs a day after her death. If they had done it a day earlier, a life would not have been lost,” Mr. Gangadharan said.

“Her death was inhuman. The depth of the drain was 10 ft, at one point. Negligence of duty caused her death,” Mr. Gangadharan said adding it was callous attitude on the part of the authorities to show “total lack of care” towards public safety.

“We have issued notice to the District Collector, executive engineer of the PWD and the Kozhikode Corporation secretary to give detailed reports on the incident. “We will find out what steps public institutions took as far as the road was concerned prior to the death on Saturday.”

The notice has been issued after the human rights commission took suo motu cognisance of the death. The three authorities have to file their reports within the statutory period of 30 days.

“One of the primary evidence the commission has sought is the road register to piece together information on who was liable for the upkeep of the road. Even the fact as to which authority replaced the missing slabs indicated liability,” he said.

Mr. Gangadharan said the commission had decided to intervene as the circumstances surrounding the death clearly showed violation of the right to life guaranteed under the Constitution.

Referring to the blame game between departments and the civic body, he said the authorities should take collective responsibility.

“This is not just an accidental death,” he said, adding that a situation was created due to negligence leading to the death of an innocent person.

However, he dismissed the possibility of whether the officials responsible could be held criminally liable for the death. “As of now, there is nothing to suggest criminal liability. There is no indication of mens rea (intention). This amounts to currently tortuous liability,” Mr. Gangadharan said. A tortuous liability is a civil wrong related to the duty of care, and negligence of that duty.

He said Rs.1.5 lakh under the State Disaster Response Fund as ex-gratia compensation was too small sum and could be considered only as interim relief for the victim’s family, adding that the commission would take the circumstances into consideration and fix suitable compensation.

This is when the district administration, quoting paucity of funds, could spare only Rs.10,000 of the Rs. 1.5 lakh. The balance would be given after receiving more disaster funds, District Collector C.A. Latha had assured.

However, the State government had declared Rs. 3.5 lakh compensation on Wednesday. Mr. Gangadharan said a further investigation would be held to ascertain whether there were any more open drains within the city limits that posed potential threat to pedestrians.

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