In a significant order, the Kerala High Court has ruled that the District Collector will have to explain every future road accident caused by potholes in his jurisdiction. The court has also directed that the officers under the various District Collectors - in their capacity as Chairman or Chairperson of the Disaster Manager Authority – “must be instructed to visit and watch every road and to ensure that all of them are kept free of disaster, lest another accident happened”.
Justice Devan Ramachandran, on August 19, in a detailed order also said, “It must be remembered that the creation of pothole or crater on a road can only be construed as a ‘man-made disaster’ under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act" and directed the District Collectors to act within their statutory powers.
The judge further remarked that the court could not “prod” the district collector continuously.
“I hereby, direct the District Collectors to act proactively to avert 'man-made disasters' on the roads; and I caution them that every further accident will have to be explained by them in future,” said the court.
The court observed that the more it “delves into the issue of bad roads, it becomes apparent that it is a result of either corruption or insouciance; and in most times, both”.
As far as roads in Kerala are concerned, “it is a continuing saga of construction, dilapidation and construction again; which happens in quick succession, at least once in a year or multiple times”, added Justice Ramachandran. The judge remarked that the angle of corruption would have to be looked into.
The Government of India and in particular its Ministry of Road Transport and Highways have a specific role to play when somebody is killed or injured in an accident on the National Highway, said the court. “They must inform this Court how we must respond to the cri de coeur (passionate appeal) of the family of a victim, or that of an injured, for having either been killed or put to danger because the Authorities vested with duties did not do it well or neglected it,” added the court.
The HC has asked the Assistant Solicitor General of India, Advocate S. Manu, to obtain specific instructions from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways on the issue.
The issue of potholes and craters on city roads and uncovered drains was brought to the court’s notice in another matter. However, the court expressed concern over the issues following the death of a person in a road accident due to a pothole on August 5 on the National Highway.
Justice Ramachandran said that although the victim of the accident was not before the court, “a larger question arises as to whether judicial notice of his family's plight should be taken and they be compensated under the constitutional guarantees”. The court will consider this aspect on the next date of hearing on August 31.
The HC directed the Public Works Department and the Corporation to ensure that every road , without exception, is repaired and kept ready within the next two weeks and asked it to place the compliance on record.
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