23 Aug 2023 2:56 AM GMT
A refugee has to be housed in reasonably decent accommodation. The basic infrastructural facilities must be available. He or she must also have access to the fundamental amenities such as sanitation, health care, clean drinking water etc., the Madras High Court has held.Justice GR Swaminathan observed that,"When the right to shelter and housing has been recognised internationally as a...
A refugee has to be housed in reasonably decent accommodation. The basic infrastructural facilities must be available. He or she must also have access to the fundamental amenities such as sanitation, health care, clean drinking water etc., the Madras High Court has held.
Justice GR Swaminathan observed that,
"When the right to shelter and housing has been recognised internationally as a human right, it cannot be denied to the refugees living in a camp. A camp houses a few hundred families. There are women and young girls. Their privacy has to be ensured. Otherwise, there is no meaning in declaring privacy as a fundamental right," the court said.
The court added that though the refugees living in camps are allowed to pursue their avocations and earn a living, a lot of restrictions are put in place which hinders their right to work. Thus, the court said that it is time to recognise a refugee's right to work without restriction.
"Such restrictions will have an adverse bearing on their right to work. The Hon'ble Apex Court in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (AIR 1986 SC 180) held that the right to live and the right to work are integrated and independent and therefore, if a person is deprived of his right to work, his very right to life is put in jeopardy. Time has come to recognise the refugees' right to work without restrictions," the court observed.
The court made the observations in a plea by Athipathi, a Srilankan refugee living in Tamil Nadu, seeking 10 Lakh rupees compensation from the State for the death of his daughter Saranya who died after being caught under the debris of a side wall, which had collapsed during rains.
Though the State had initially claimed that the asbestos-roofing put up by Athipathi had collapsed leading to Saranya's death, the court, on perusing the contents of the FIR, was satisfied that the child died due to injuries caused by the collapse of the side-wall.
The court also noted that though the District Collector had made a representation seeking funds for enhancing infrastructural facilities in refugee camps way back in 2012, the funds were allotted only in 2015-2016. The court thus noted that the authorities themselves had doubts regarding the structural stability of the walls.
The court also observed that the Government was obliged to assume responsibility for the safety and well-being of the refugees after having housed them in the camps. Thus, noting that the victim had not, in any way, contributed to the occurrence, the court held that the State was absolutely liable to pay compensation and directed the state to pay 5 lakh rupees as compensation.
"It is true that only on account of the heavy rains and wind, the untoward incident took place. But then, the construction must have been such as to withstand such eventualities. It is not the case of the respondents that what happened was an extraordinary or unforeseeable event. It was a normal heavy rainfall. Only because the wall was poorly constructed, it collapsed. The State has to assume absolute liability," the court said.
Interestingly, instead of directing the compensation to be paid to the petitioner, the court, apprehending that the money might find its way back to State coffers through TASMAC, directed the State to create a fixed deposit in favour of the wife of Athipathi for a period of 3 years. The wife is entitled to draw interests every two months and withdraw the deposit at the end of 3 years.
Case Title: Athipathi v. The Principal Secretary and others
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 239