Odisha Government diluting apex court order: petitioner #Niyamgiri #Vedanta

BHUBANESWAR, June 11, 2013

Staff Reporter, The Hindu


ate government continues to face widespread criticism over selection 12 villages for conducting of gram sabhas that would decide fate of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hill.

Prafulla Samantra, an original petitioner of the case on which Supreme Court directed to hold gram sabhas for settlement rights under Forest Rights Act, on Monday wrote to Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik alleging dilution of Apex Court order.

“The Apex Court verdict has been clearly ignored by the ST and SC Department of the State government as there has been an arbitrary decision while selecting 12 villages for conducting Gram Sabhas for which no convincing reason has been mentioned,” Mr. Samantra said.

He also charged that the State was trying to spread reign of terror in Niyamgiri Hill range before conduct of gram sabhas.

“Since a fake combing operation is going on in the area by security forces with the help and support of Vedanta, an atmosphere of fear and intimidation is prevailing over there which may badly affect the conduct of Gram Sabhas.

A couple of days back security forces allegedly fired at a group of young tribal children who were playing in the hills and one was reportedly killed. If such a situation continues no Gram Sabhas could be conducted in a fair way,” Mr. Samantra further alleged.

He urged the Chief Secretary to take urgent steps so that Gram Sabhas would be conducted in all affected places, and just not the ones prescribed by the administration.

The petitioner also requested the government to involve him in all the processes leading to conduct of gram sabhas as per Apex Court order.

Recently, Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs had told the State government that selection of 12 villagers for conducting gram sabhas was not in accordance of Supreme Court order.

MoTA Secretary Vibha Puri Das in a letter said the ministry was in receipt of copies of several claims under Forest Rights Act for various rights including religious and cultural rights claimed over Niyamgiri forests and sacred areas from villages over and above the 12 villages selected by the State Government.


Odisha pays scant heed to tribal ministry’s directions on mining for Vedanta

Kumar Sambhav S…
Issue Date:

State invites forest rights claims from only a dozen villages on Niyamgiri hill slope

Vedanta's bauxite mining  
proposal in Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi has been stiffly opposed by affected  
tribals and forest dwellers Photo credit - Saroj MishraVedanta‘s bauxite mining proposal in Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi has been stiffly opposed by affected tribals and forest dwellers Photo credit – Saroj Mishra

The directions of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs to the Odisha government, asking it to ensure that the Supreme Court’s order in the Vedanta case is properly implemented, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Defying the ministry’s instructions that the state should invite claims of individual and community rights under the Forest Rights Act from all the villages in Kalahandi and Raygada districts over the proposed bauxite mining area, the state has decided to invite such claims only from the 12 villages that lie on the slope of the Niyamgiri hill.

Orissa Mining Corporation Limited (OMCL) and Sterlite Industries, the Indian arm of Vedanta, had proposed to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha’s Kalahandi district for Vedanta’s alumina refinery in nearby Lanjigarh. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had refused to give approval for the project more than two years ago, saying it violated provisions of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), Environment Protection Act (EPA) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA). OMCL later challenged the government’s decision in 2011 in the apex court.

On April 18, the Supreme Court ordered that village councils in Odisha’s Rayagada and Kalahandi districts would decide if projects of the metals and mining giant,Vedanta, have infringed the tribal communities’ right to worship. The court made it clear that the religious rights of the tribals must be protected [1]. It also asked the gram sabhas to consider afresh—under FRA—all other individual and community claims of the tribals.  The Niyamgiri hills are revered by the Kondh tribals of the region who have been fighting a pitched battle against the project from the very beginning.

All in Rayagada and Kalahandi were to be consulted

The tribal affairs ministry, on May 2, sent “legally binding” directions to the state under FRA [2], prescribing the process and time frame to aid the gram sabhas affected by the Vedanta’s proposed mining project to decide—independently and in a transparent manner—the veracity of religious and cultural rights claimed by the tribal people on Niyamgiri hill. The ministry asked the state to issue advertisements in newspapers, including those in vernacular languages, asking all the tribals and traditional forest dwellers in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts to file claims of religious and cultural rights, along with the individual and community rights over the proposed mining area. The ministry has also asked the state to display this notification along with the details of the apex court order in all villages in the two districts irrespective of their proximity to the mining site so that there is no possibility of subjectivity in the selection of gram sabhas where the meeting will be finally held.

Twisted reasoning

The state, instead of responding to the directions, referred the matter to its law department which suggested the gram sabha meetings should be conducted in only the 12 villages that fall on the Niyamgiri hill slope. “The Supreme Court, in December last year had asked the state to inform it about the status of implementation of FRA in the villages on the hill slopes of Niyamgiri. The state then submitted a list of 12 villages on the hill slope and status of FRA implementation in them to the court. The law department has suggested that the final judgement of the court and its December 2012 order need to be seen in conjunction and hence the government has decided to conduct the gram sabha in the same 12 villages,” said Santosh Kumar Sarangi, secretary, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Development Department in Odisha.

The collectors of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts have already been instructed to initiate the process of inviting claims in the 12 villages. Out of the 12 villages selected, Jarappa, Khambessi, Kesarpadi, Batudi, Serkapadi, Lakhapadar and Lamba fall in the Raygada district while Palaberi, Phuldumer, Konakadu, Tadijhola and Ijrupa fall in Kalahandi. While the Supreme Court ordered that the claims should be invited within six weeks from the date of judgement—April 18—the state has asked for six weeks extension as it had not decided on the villages to be consulted.

Another round of battle?

“It is a conspiracy of the company and the state to reduce the number of villages which can claim rights over the Niyamgiri hill. The 12 villages that the state has identified are hardly significant. For instance, Ijrupa has only one house while another village Tadijhola has no population of Dongriya Kondh. According to the apex court judgement, claims of all the villages falling within 10 km of the mining area should be considered. There would be at least 60-80 such villages. We are planning to submit a memorandum to the state government and tribal affairs ministry on irregularity of the selection of villages,” said Prafulla Samantray who was an intervener in the case.

On being asked about the ministry’s course of action if the state does not abide by its directions, Vibha Puri Das, secretary in the tribal affairs ministry, said she has already written to the chief secretary of the state to report on the actions taken by the state on the ministry’s directions. “We have proposed a joint exercise of the state and the ministry for facilitation and capacity building of the gram sabhas as per the Supreme Court order. We are dealing with a state. We will have to see how it works out,” she added.


Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/odisha-pays-scant-heed-tribal-ministrys-directions-mining-vedanta


Recent Supreme Court order in Vedanta case holds hope for tribal community life


Published on Down To Earth (http://www.downtoearth.org.in)


My god v your resource

Blog Intro:

Recent Supreme Court order in Vedanta case holds hope for tribal community life

Richard Mahapatra


imagePhoto: Digpatra

Is a village council qualified to deal with religious beliefs? The answer lies in a recent order by the Supreme Court in the Vedanta case. Gram sabhas (village councils consisting of all voters in a village) in Odisha’s Rayagada and Kalahandi districts will decide whether the industrial activities of Vedanta violate the constitutional right of tribal communities to worship. Translated into practice, the order means voters in a few villages will decide the fate of the multi-billion- rupee project based on their religious beliefs. Though parroted often that religious belief is a private concern, the apex court’s order is exceptional in making religious decision a community one. Those who understand tribal ways of life will vote for this order.

In the past, many orders of the apex court—several of them highly controversial and a few where the court had to issue clarifications—dealt with religion-related issues, including defining Hinduism. In many cases related to religion the judiciary has been cautious and has limited verdicts to ensure the constitutional rights to practice any religion. Going by senior advocates and judicial experts, the Constitution gives more importance to public purpose than to general religious rights. That is why most often the apex court gets to decide on contests between the two.

Though the Vedanta order cannot be clubbed with such cases in a clinical fashion, it is definitely a case related to religion and associated beliefs. There are a few reasons that make this case interesting.

First, it is a perfect case where the government’s power to acquire land for public purpose and having right over minerals are in direct conflict with religious rights of local communities. Secondly, the religious belief in question is that of tribal communities. Unlike many religions, tribal religious beliefs are manifested in tangible living forms like forest, land and water. In this case, the direct conflict between religious belief and public purpose becomes intense as the public purpose acquisitions are the gods and goddesses of the tribals. For the Dongria Kondhs in Odisha, the Niyamgiri hill is the Niyam Raja or god. Thirdly, tribals do not have any supreme religious head or bodies to protect and interpret beliefs. Tribal beliefs are pure functional codes for maintaining the fragile ecology-economy equation that sustains them. This is where the court’s order to assign the village council, that enjoys constitutional powers, to take a call on the religious rights comes as an acknowledgement of the fact that the standard law and religion approach to tribal areas will not work.

Village councils are the new institutions that governments are targeting for effective service delivery. They are fast emerging as tools to turn representative local governments into participatory ones. Whether to identify a beneficiary for a programme or to prepare a village water security plan, at least technically, people have direct say over local development decisions. There are many ways to interpret a court order, but the current order has immense ramification for this institution; it may open up a new front for direct intervention by voters in contentious issues. Never ever have voters been mandated to mediate in such a case. In tribal areas, it is a judicial order to get back to their age-old participatory and commune system of governance.

But here comes the challenge: will the government accept the apex court order in the right spirit?

There is no dearth of cases where village council meetings are engineered to get favourable decisions. Applying all possible tricks, projects that have adverse local impacts, including the case of Vedanta, have handed over dubious consents. Studies carried out across the country show that people hardly attend village council meetings because they never work out in their interests. The court’s interpretation of tribal right to worship and the right to decide on it in general village meeting applies equally to all tribal areas, the hotspots of industrial and mineral development. Though the court upheld the government’s right over the country’s 85 billion tonnes of mineral resources, it also upheld the right of tribal communities over gods and goddesses residing over the resources.

In the next one fortnight, the tribal communities of the two districts will vote not just on their right but also on a mini but crucial plebiscite on the government’s will to implement the court order. Closely, and with vested interests, India’s tribal population will be watching.

Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/my-god-v-your-resource


#India – Tribals set to decide Vedanta project’s fate #forestrights

, TNN | May 14, 2013

Tribals set to decide Vedanta project’s fate
The Supreme Court order has left it to the villagers to decide the fate of the Vedanta project, and the call revolves on whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.
NEW DELHI: The villages of Dongriya Kondh tribals around Odisha‘s Niyamgiri hills are likely to simmer again as the Centre and the state government along with civil society groups are planning to converge on the site for the proposed Vedanta bauxite mine.The Supreme Court order has left it to the villagers to decide the fate of the Vedanta project, and the call revolves on whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.

The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order the Odisha government to ensure the tribals can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.

Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – both experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.

Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order is underway in various wings of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing for an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.

Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled by higher echelons of power, or the state bureaucracy.

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas, who would get to vote, is perceived as a major challenge in the backdrop of heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.

The unusual promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — that the environment ministry had used to step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to underscore its credentials.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored brownie points with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the norms that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government, which has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.

The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA — a pro-tribal promise by the UPA — that he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.


Madhya pradesh HC – Only law dept nod needed to prosecute corrupt govt officers #Goodnews

Saji Thomas l Bhopal, DNA, mARCH 26,2013

In a landmark verdict, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has said that a government servant accused of corruption can be prosecuted even without getting sanction from his/her parent department. The court held that the law department had the final authority to award sanction to prosecute a government servant.
At present, law department waits for recommendations of parent department/General Administration Department (GAD) while awarding prosecution sanction against a corrupt government servant. The verdict is set to put an end to this practice.
Delivering the judgment on March 18, the principal bench of high court said: “…opinion of parent department is not at all binding on the law department while considering the case for grant of sanction”. It further said: “Order granting sanction…has been passed after due application of mind on the basis of material collected and brought before the sanctioning authority”. The bench pointed out: “To seek opinion from the parent department is part of the procedure…and thus not binding”.
The order was passed by the division bench of justice Ajit Singh and justice Tarun Kumar Kaushal in a criminal revision petition filed by M P Chaturvedi, a Superintendent Engineer (SE), associated with Bansagar Canal Circle, Rewa.
The SE had moved the high court against order of special judge Shahdol, which had accepted the prosecution sanction given by law department, on the ground that his parent department had not given any recommendation to sanction his prosecution. According to the SE, under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, it was the parent department that was authorised to grant prosecution sanction.
The SE had been booked under Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 and Indian Penal Code (IPC) for alleged irregularities in processing of tenders for a work by Economic Offence Wing (EOW).
“The order will go a long way in prosecuting the corrupt government servants who have been successfully escaping the trial on the plea of not having prosecution sanction from the government”, said advocate Punkaj Dubey, counsel for EOW.

“The court has also affirmed that the prosecution against a corrupt government servant cannot be dropped merely on the ground that there was no prosecution sanction”, he told DNA, quoting from the high court order: “…the trial has reached the state of defence evidence. At such a fag end stage of trial, in our opinion, there is hardly any scope for entertaining a technical objection in respect of sanction”.

Kerala girl who thrashed men for verbal abuse faces court case #1billionrising #Vaw #WTFnews

PTI | Feb 19, 2013, 10.32 PM IST

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A college girl who hit the headlines by kicking and punching those who harassed her at an eatery recently has landed in trouble with the city police registering a case against her based on a local court order.

The courage shown by Amrita, a final year degree student of a city college, has been widely applauded for the way she “handled” her tormentors at a wayside eatery on her way home after participating in “One Billion Rising” programme at Shanghumugham beach on February 14.

After her bold act appeared in the media, she has been showered with phone calls and letters praising the manner in which she handled the situation and a state minister even visited her home to pat the courageous girl.

Following the incident, police registered a case against the two men.

One of the accused, however, filed a private complaint in a local court alleging he had been beaten up by the girl who also blocked his car.

Admitting the complaint, the court on Monday directed the city police to register a case and investigate the incident.

Meanwhile, state women’s commission chairperson KC Rosakutty and leaders of various women outfits criticised the action against Amrita, who is widely seen as a symbol of courage.


A black belt in Karate, Amrita said she would legally fight the case against her.

#Mumbai High Court orders probe – Armed men would come, pick women and rape them #VAW

Hours after Mumbai Mirror report…

CM, High Court order probe into horror ‘shelter’

Crime Branch to investigate allegations of rape at Mankhurd women’s home, HC serves notices to state welfare department, police chief

 Yogesh Sadhwani, Mumbai Mirror

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Tuesday ordered the Mumbai Crime Branch to probe allegations of rape at the state-run protective shelter in Mankhurd following a Mumbai Mirror report. The Bombay High Court, too, took suo motu notice of the issue and directed various state agencies to respond by November 5.

A Mumbai Mirror report on Monday quoted an inmate of the Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh, a protective shelter for women rescued under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act, as saying that the women at the home were starved and often raped by outsiders.

The 24-year-old was one of the 23 women who escaped from the home on Saturday. “The chief minister has ordered a Crime Branch inquiry,” said Amitabh Rajan, additional chief secretary, home department. “I have asked Commissioner Satyapal Singh to investigate and get to the bottom of the case.

Another issue that has come up is the lack of proper supervision at the home.” Rajan said he has also asked Ujwal Uke, principal secretary, Women and Child Development Department, to conduct a thorough departmental inquiry.

The Crime Branch will handle the investigation in a sensitive manner so that the women at the home are encouraged to speak up fearlessly, Rajan assured.

Following the chief minister’s instructions, the Crime Branch has formed a special team, which has been asked to investigate the matter and report to Joint Commissioner (Crime) Himanshu Roy within a week. “We have formed a special investigation team headed by the DCP, detection,” said Roy. “He will be assisted by a team that will include women police officers. They will begin their inquiry immediately and submit a report to me in a week’s time.”

By Monday afternoon, the Bombay High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the case. Court officials told Mumbai Mirror that notices were sent to the Women and Child Welfare Department, city police commissioner, the Mankhurd home’s superintendent and also a High Court-appointed committee.

A division bench headed by Chief Justice Mohit Shah will hear the Public Interest Litigation on November 5.

The Women and Child Welfare Department, which did not respond for the report on Sunday night despite repeated attempts, claimed on Monday that the woman quoted by Mumbai Mirror was lying about the conditions at the home.

“The Mumbai Mirror report about the state of the women’s home is based on lies,” a district women and child welfare officer said in a statement. “The report has mentioned that armed men often barge into the home and rape the women. No such incident has happened.

Regarding the conditions, the women in the home get food and tea twice a day, which is in accordance with government norms.”

The inmate, however, said any girl in the home would say the same thing she said as that was the reality. She said she was glad that her revelations led the chief minister and the High Court’s intervention.

“I am glad I was of some help to the other girls,” she said. “I was lucky to have escaped from that hell hole. I only hope that those who are still there get a better life and do not suffer any more.”

Who ordered Vimeo to be blocked? Not DoT, says RTI reply #censorship

Deutsch: Logo des Videoportals Vimeo

Published: Wednesday, Jun 13, 2012, 11:18 IST
By Subir Ghosh | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

The ire of hacktivist group Anonymous that was directed at the government over blocking of sites like vimeo.com and Pirate Bay may not have been justified – the ban on these sites, in fact, was not ordered by the Department of Telecommunications.

In response to a RTI query made by the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), the department replied, “As per available information no blocking instruction to block websites like Pirate-bay and Vimeo etc. has been issued by the Department of Telecommunications to Internet Service Providers (sic).”
The revelation by the department assumes significance since most of the anger of groups like Anonymous had been directed against it, particularly over these two sites.

On June 9, countrywide protests were organised by Anonymous. Dressed in black and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, about 100 people staged a demonstration at the city’s Azad Maidan in protest against the Union government’s internet policies. The Indian wing of the group was created in the backdrop of the recent outrage over the IT Act Intermediaries Rules and blocking of sites.

SFLC itself does not want to hazard a guess on who ordered the blocks, but falls back on reports to conjecture that these might have been carried out by ISPs to comply with interim injunctions styled as John Doe orders issued by the Chennai High Court in response to a suit filed by producers of the Tamil film ‘3’, arguably better known for its chartbuster ‘Kolaveri’.

SFLC counsel Prasanth Sugathan said it did not matter so much who had handed out the orders. “It is the issues raised that are important. One should not lose sight of core issues (that of internet freedom),” he said. SFLC, among other things, works towards protecting digital freedoms.

Vimeo.com, Pirate Bay and a other sites continue to be blocked across many ISPs for over a month now. According to SFLC, the error message shown on trying to access the blocked sites on the Airtel network was, “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Tellecommunciations

Read more here

INDIFFERENCE TO INTERNET –Apathetic state #censorship

Javed Anwer | June 2, 2012, TOI Crest


Two weeks ago, millions of perplexed internet users in India woke up to discover that they had been suddenly cut off from a clutch of very popular file-sharing and video websites. This was ostensibly done to ‘protect copyright’ and involved an Indian film body, a court order and internet service providers (ISPs). Indian cyberspace erupted with indignation. As later reported, there was much that was arbitrary about the action. It also raises some fundamental questions about regulating the internet in India.
In this latest instance, there were also, initially, no clear answers as to who cut off access to these websites? A notice telling users that ‘this website has been blocked as per DoT orders, ‘ appeared first. DoT apparently meant Department of Telecom. After a couple of days the message was changed to ‘the website has been blocked as per a court order. ‘ DoT later clearly denied it had issued any such order. And here lies one part of the problem.

No internet service provider (ISP) bothered to explain which court order, or what the issue at hand was. In fact, Indian ISPs have been blocking and unblocking websites on the basis of broad and rather vague court orders against piracy for a while now. This is clearly problematic, as there appears to be no system or detailed governmental guidelines in place to do such things.

At first glance, it seems logical. A court ordered the blocking of some websites and lawabiding ISPs complied. But it is not so simple. This whole saga is also a sordid tale of how casually the Indian government and ISPs treat the issue of web access in India, perhaps a fundamental right of sorts across the globe now. It also shows the lack of a proper system of wellthought out state oversight over the very firms tasked with connecting Indians to the internet.

In this case, the Madras high court only issued an order against a specific case of piracy. It didn’t order that websites be blocked. CERTIN, the nodal government agency in question, did not issue any directives to ISPs in this case. And the Chennai-based firm that filed the lawsuit later claimed it never asked anyone to block complete websites – only that access to some specific web links on these sites be cut off.

Clearly, ISPs seem to wield arbitrary powers in India, either due to poorly-framed IT rules that were notified last April, or because of the apathy that the concerned ministries seem to display on the matter. ISPs (most of whom are also big telecom companies) behave this way because they neither seem to be accountable to consumers nor to the government, on the vital matter of free and unfettered access to the net (bound by reasonable restrictions, of course) which is what consumers are paying for.

Blocking websites is a serious matter. Done the wrong way, it is tantamount to trampling on free speech. The UN has said that free and open access to the web is a human right. Countries like Finland have even made it a legal right for their citizens. And free speech matters greatly to mature democracies tackling similar issues. Consider how when US legislators were debating their Stop Online Piracy Act, which allowed for something like what ISPs did in India, President Obama threatened to veto the act if it was passed.

No one denies that there are problems with the web. But the solution to these problems does not lie with our ISPs being willing to play trigger-happy cops. The internet is inherently disruptive technology. Copyright piracy, for instance, is a serious issue and must be dealt with carefully. In the digital world it is very difficult to sort issues out in a black and white fashion. That’s the main reason why the same websites blocked in India continue to be available in most other countries, including the US – where the most stringent copyright and anti-piracy laws in the world are enforced.

But in India, state indifference to understanding the internet appears to be the biggest problem. Besides, the government keeps going off on other tangents. For instance, Kapil Sibal, our telecom minister, has been going on about how the web should be regulated. Shouldn’t he be talking about how the web in India can be kept free instead? His ministry, instead of devising ways to monitor social media websites, should be working to create a framework where intermediaries like website owners and ISPs don’t abuse the power they have over users. Instead of worrying about Twitter, shouldn’t the government be working to create institutions and net watchdogs (on the lines of TRAI perhaps) that make sure Indians can access the internet freely?

If websites had been blocked arbitrarily in the West, ISPs would have been sued or penalised by government watchdogs. They would have been hounded by courts for abusing a just order. But not in India – a pity for a country that claims to be among the world’s most vibrant democracies.

The Seven Year Itch – Despite Bombay HC order medical aid not given to train accident victims

Jan 13, Mumbai-Seven years ago, the Bombay high court told the railways to give medical aid to train accident victims within the golden hour. On Friday, it issued show-cause notices to the Central and the Western Railway for not complying with court orders.

“The railways has been asked to reply to the notices within three weeks,” said Rajiv Singh, counsel for activist Samir Zaveri, the petitioner.

As per railway police statistics, about 3,600 people die and over 4,000 are injured every year on Mumbai’s suburban tracks. “The main cause of accidents is overcrowding; a train with a capacity for 1,500 passengers carries 8,500,” said Zaveri. “Commuters fall from running trains and due to failure to provide first aid, and delay in taking them to hospital-as ambulances are not available-many victims bleed to death.”

One of the major directions of the HC in its 2004 judgment was telling the railways to shift accident victims to the nearest private or government hospital. According to the direction, a victim is supposed to be taken to a private hospital if a government hospital cannot be found in a radius of five kilometres around the accident site; if the victim is indeed admitted to a private hospital, the railways is supposed to bear the cost of treatment. “This direction is routinely violated. For instance, despite the presence of private hospitals nearby, accident victims from Virar are taken to Bhagwati Hospital in Borivli, which is about 35 km away,” Zaveri’s petition claimed.

Zaveri submitted in court a CD of a sting operation. In it, a senior divisional medical officer of Western Railway, Dr Meena Sakher, reportedly says about expenditure on train accident victims: “Why should we spend money on beggars?”

Another direction of the 2004 order was that the railways had to provide free parking for ambulances at all stations. The railways invited tenders for the purpose, but did not receive bids.

Zaveri’s application to the court mentioned information obtained under the Right to Information Act, according to which an ambulance at Churchgate station had not been used for 20 years. Zaveri also submitted newspaper clippings and photographs to the court, showing victims being taken on hand carts instead of stretchers.

The two railways, in their affidavits to the court, said compliance with other directions, including building boundary walls along tracks, putting up fences between tracks and raising the height of platforms, was in progress. Friday’s notices were issued by Justice Shahrukh J Kathawalla. DIRECTIONS DISOBEYED | Bombay high court to railways in 2004

Direction: Shift victims to the nearest private or government hospital Compliance status: Not fully complied with. Victims are taken to public hospitals, some 35 km away from accident sites

Direction: Provide free parking for ambulances at railway stations Compliance status: Tenders invited, but no bids received. Victims are sometimes taken to hospital in hand carts

Direction: Provide stretchers, gloves for bearers and first aid kits Compliance status: Victims are touched without gloves. No paramedical staff or doctors are present at railway stations to administer first aid

Direction: Build boundary walls along tracks, put up fences between tracks and raise the height of platforms Compliance status: Work in progress

Direction: Provide foot over bridges at every station and keep them free of hawkers Compliance status: Work in progress at six stations. Hawker menace not tackled

Compliance status as per petition

The notices were issued by Justice S J Kathawala on petitions filed by a disabled activist Samir Zaveri. Zaveri pleaded that he had learnt through RTI that the Railways had not complied with earlier orders of the High Court to provide immediate attention to the victims by taking them to the nearest hospital. The petitioner contended that every year around 3600 persons get killed and another 7700 sustain injuries while either crossing the tracks or falling down from the speeding locals due to overcrowding in suburban trains.

Many a times, Zaveri said, first aid was not available at railway stations and there was also shortage of ambulances to take victims to hospitals as a result of which they died due to excessive bleeding. For instance, he said, victims who met with accidents at Virar station were transferred to government-run Bhagwati hospital in suburban Borivali, which was about 35 km away. The high court has already passed an order directing the railway authorities to shift victims to nearby private hospitals if government hospitals were not located within five kms radius of the accident site, Zaveri said.

The petition contended that by not attending to the victims immediately, the railways were violating their fundamental rights. He said this was also violative of section 57 of the Railways Act, 1989. Zaveri contended that Western Railway had to some extent followed the high court order but the Central Railway seemed to be totally ignorant of the court directives and had not taken any steps to implement the measures. The petitioner suggested that one of the methods to prevent accidents relating to the crossing of railway tracks was to undertake fencing on the boundary of railway premises. He said the costs incurred by the government or municipal hospitals in treating the injured would be much more than the cost of the proposed fencing.

Quoting the figures provided in RTI reply by Western and Central Railways, the petitioner said 598 and 2259 commuters were killed in accidents on the two railways respectively during 2008. He said that even at Churchgate station, the starting point on the Western suburban Railway, the authorities do not have adequate first aid.


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October 2022
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