The Kerala High Court recently closed a batch of public interest litigation petitions that sought for directions to the State and Central Governments to take steps to stem the rise in road accidents in the State.
Justice Shaji P Chaly, authoring the judgment on behalf of the Bench comprising of himself and Chief Justice S Manikumar, declared that the right to a safe road is a facet of the fundamental rights of free movement and the right to life under the Constitution. [Articles 19(1)(d) and 21].
The petitioners, a former panchayat president, lawyer, a man who lost his son to a motor accident, an NGO, a politician and two retired Motor Vehicles Department officials, primarily prayed for the implementation of provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MV Act) and Kerala's Road Safety law, the Kerala Road Safety Act, 2007 (Road Safety Act).
After referring documents filed by the State Government in Court, the Bench expressed,
"We are constrained to say that, even though sufficient measures are provided under various enactments to curb the menace of the road accidents, both the Central and State Governments are slow in implementing the provisions of the enactments, which is causing serious prejudice to the public at large."
From statistics of road accidents produced in Court, the Bench observed,
"Accidents are increasing day by day and due to the fatal injuries, the deaths are increasing, which is quite alarming and beyond comprehension."
Pursuant to the findings, the Court resolved to issue directions to the Government Authorities to implement provisions of the MV Act and the Road Safety Act.
What the High Court directed
The Bench emphasised that the installation of necessary technological and electronic systems as is provided under the MV Act, 1988, is an inevitable requirement of the day.
In addition, the judgment urges that -
- adequate steps be taken by the Road Safety Authority and other bodies constituted under the Road Safety Act, 2007 to avoid road accidents. The implementation of these measures was to be on a war footing, without any delay;
- the Road Safety Authority undertake necessary investigations and enquiries to identify the dangerous installations put up, temporary or permanent, and dangerous trees or branches overhanging from private and public properties and standing by the side of the road likely to cause accidents. Adequate steps were to be taken remove them at the earliest, at least within three months from the date of the receipt of judgment;
- the Authority take urgent steps for the removal of unused concrete and other poles and materials, debris and waste materials stacked on the footpaths and by the side of the roads, and the abandoned motor vehicles on the roads at the earliest, at least within three months from the date of the receipt of judgment;
- the lands and public properties agreed to be surrendered by private parties and local bodies for improvement of road facilities be identified. The same was to be done by providing alternative lands or compensation to such persons or bodies within four months. If the lands were not surrendered, such would have to be recovered after due notice and adjudication within a month;
- the State and the Central Governments provide timely assistance under any law for the proper functioning of the Road Safety Authority, especially for the recovery of lands specified in the previous direction;
- the Central and State Government take effective steps in coordination with the Authority under the Road Safety Act to regulate the road works done by various departments so as to eliminate the frequent digging of roads by different Departments. This was necessary to save public money and protect the public interest;
- the Road Safety Authority under the Road Safety Act, take urgent measures against anyone who violated any instructions, regulations, rules, notifications etc. of the authority and the Government in regard to road safety;
- the Road Safety Authority ensure that the local bodies are carrying out their mandatory functions under the Road Safety Act; and
- the Authority take steps to deal with the requirements of the accident victims in contemplation of the Road Safety Act, 2007 immediately, "so as to translate the true intentions of the Act and to ensure timely financial assistance to tide over the urgent necessities, especially among the weaker section of the public".
The Court additionally exhorted the Road Safety Authority to achieve its roles in the manner envisaged in the Road Safety Act. The Court also pressed the Road Safety Authority to ensure it was receiving funds from the State's consolidated fund.
The Bench said,
Before parting with the judgment, we think it deem and appropriate to state that if the objectives of the Road Safety Act, 2007 are to be achieved and attained, the functionaries under the Road Safety Act, 2007, other road safety authorities and others functioning under other enactments and the Central and State Governments shall function like a well oiled machine. The observations and the directions are made by us also bearing in mind that the right for a safe road to every citizen is a facet of Articles 19 (1) (d) and 21 of the Constitution of India and thus all authorities are duty bound to discharge them without fail. We hope that such authorities and the Governments would rise to the occasion and do the needful in the larger interest of the public and remove all obstacles causing threat and danger to the road safety at the earliest possible time and as specified above.
On the PD Sunil Babu Report
During the proceedings, the petitioners pointed out a Traffic Expert, PS Sunil Babu, had submitted a Report to the State Government on the rise in road accidents and the steps that could be taken to stop them.
After examining material produced by the State Government, the Bench found,
"..the counter affidavit filed by the State Government, the State Government has virtually admitted that Sri. P.D Sunil Babu was appointed by the Government in order to prepare a detailed project report to reduce the accidents in Kerala. However, even though the Road Safety Authority considered the report and forwarded the proposal contained thereunder to the Government through the Motor Vehicle Department, so far, the same is not finalised by the State Government."
From the provisions of the Report, the Court instructed the State to "implement the same, in its letter and spirit, in the larger interest of the public, without any further delay by providing adequate and due support to the authority under the Road Safety Act, 2007".
On these terms, the writ petitions were allowed.
CASE NAME: CA Xavier v. Chief Secretary and Ors.
COUNSEL FOR PETITIONER: Advocates Bindu Das M., K.B Gangesh, P. M. John, Manu Govind,
COUNSEL FOR STATE RESPONDENTS: Special Government Pleader P. Santhosh Kumar, Officer of Assistant Solicitor General of India P. Vijayakumar