Civil authorities responsible for negligent death: The Tribune India

Pushpa Girimaji

My 10 year old daughter had done a three day botanical tour organized by her school. On the second day of the tour I was informed that my daughter had fallen into a manhole and by the time she was rescued she was dead. I was told the manhole cover was badly cracked and broke when my daughter stepped on it. I want to hold the school responsible for his death. Can I file a complaint with the consumer court?

I am extremely sorry to learn of the tragic death of your child. However, I regret to say that consumer courts no longer resolve disputes relating to educational institutions and this includes deaths caused by school negligence. Only recently, in response to a complaint about the death of a young boy in a swimming pool during a school summer camp, the National Consumer Dispute Resolution Commission said it was settled law. that educational institutions do not fall under the Consumer Protection Act and this included extracurricular activities such as swimming and even accidents during school picnics. (Rajendra Kumar Gupta v Dr. Virendra Swarup Public School, FA No. 852 of 2016, Order date February 2, 2021).

I do not know the role played by the school in the rescue operations. If there has been negligence, then the school must certainly be reassembled. But municipal authorities must take full responsibility for not replacing a broken manhole cover. Here too, the civil authorities would not be subject to the consumer courts, unless they provide the service for a fee.

What is my option then?

You can seek relief in civil court under tort law. Or you can invoke jurisdiction under Section 226 of the Constitution and file a petition in the high court against the civic authorities for dereliction of duty and negligence which deprived your daughter of her fundamental right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. In many cases, the high courts have awarded compensation to the families of the victims. The courts have also taken cognizance suo motu of such incidents and awarded compensation. I must mention here the tragic case of an 11-year-old boy who died in similar circumstances at a school picnic. A water collection pit had a broken lid and when the boy stepped on it, it crumbled into pieces causing the boy to fall into the pit. The Delhi High Court learned suo motu of a newspaper report about the tragedy. The High Court Bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar awarded the mother of the deceased boy compensation in the amount of Rs 12,47,500, to be paid by the Public Works Department.

The court also ordered authorities to regularly inspect all manholes, pits, ditches, etc., and ensure that they pose no threat to citizens. What the court said here is significant: “It is therefore well established that for harm done by reason of a breach of public duty not to protect the rights of a citizen, the relief of monetary compensation, to as exemplary damages for established violation of the imprescriptible fundamental rights guarantee, is a remedy under public law. Therefore, the High Courts in exercising jurisdiction under Section 226 of the Constitution have not only the power and jurisdiction, but the obligation to award such relief to the victims or heirs of the victims of such a violation. (Court on its own motion v. Delhi NCT Government and Others, Written (Civil) Application 12326/2015, Order date 3 August 2018). The court also cited the Delhi High Court in Darshan and Others v Union of India (2000 ACJ 578), where it observed: “The scope and reach of section 21 is wide and wide. It would undoubtedly cover a case where the State or its intermediary failed in its duty of care, resulting in the deprivation of a person’s life or physical integrity. Article 21 of the Constitution is invoked and the petitioners are entitled to invoke Article 226 to claim pecuniary compensation because such a remedy is available in public law, based on strict liability for violation of fundamental rights.

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