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'We Can Neither Wait For Another Victim Nor Can We Let Roads Be Killing Fields': Kerala HC Directs NHAI To Fix Roads Within A Week

Athira Prasad
8 Aug 2022 4:14 PM GMT
We Can Neither Wait For Another Victim Nor Can We Let Roads Be Killing Fields: Kerala HC Directs NHAI To Fix Roads Within A Week
We do not react until we are the victim or someone we know faces such a situation, the Court added.

The Kerala High Court on Monday directed the National Highway Authority of India to take immediate steps to rectify every road under their control without any further delay within one week from today.

Justice Devan Ramachandran observed that steps should be taken to remove the potholes and craters on the road irrespective of whether that be on the National Highway, PWD Roads, or any other road under the control of the various Local Self Government Institutions.

We can neither wait for another victim, nor can we let the roads of Kerala to be killing fields – whether it be under the NHAI, PWD or the Local Self Government Institutions.

Although the case was listed for next week, the matter was taken up today after Amicus Curie Advocate Vinod Bhat brought to the notice of the Court that a person had died falling into a pothole on the National Highway. He submitted that some stretches of the National Highway, particularly at Chalakudy, Kodungallur etc., had huge craters and potholes.

Standing Counsel for the National Highways Authority of India, Advocate Bidhan Chandra, conceded that there were some problems with the stretch in question but also added that the NHAI is not a party to this case. Thereby, the Court Suo Motu impleaded the Regional Officer, National Highways Authority of India, Trivandrum.

The Standing Counsel added that the stretch of road in question is part of one which is under a "Build-Operate-Transfer" agreement with the Concessionaire and that they were responsible for its upkeep and maintenance and also its restoration. He further argued that though he does not have specific information as to what really went wrong, steps have already been taken to repair every stretch of the National Highway across the state to ensure that such instances do not happen.

It was also clarified that for this purpose, the work is entrusted to new contractors at the risk and expense of the earlier ones and that some of the agreements in question contain responsibilities of such concessionaires, including paying damages and compensation in events of accidents.

Government Pleader K. V. Manoj Kumar submitted that the actions have already been taken to cause an inquiry into the accident and that a necessary criminal investigation is underway. He further added that the concessionaires of the NHAI of the particular stretch as arrayed as an accused and that he would be dealt with according to law.

The Court remarked that the death of a person is shocking and that a couple of years ago, it was this that spurred the various directions earlier issued.

Justice Ramachandran added that the gravity of the situation in the State was quite evident and that the issue was overlooked until one becomes the victim.

"The gravity of the situation in Kerala is now for all to see. We do not react until we are the victim or someone we know faces such a situation. It is always as if accidents only happen to others and not to ourselves. But this is a myth, as anybody with reasonable sense would reckon."

The Single Judge further observed that the speed limits in most of the roads were between 70 to 90 km.

"But many of them cannot even handle traffic which moves over 20 or 30 km. This is compounded when it rains and when the potholes are not visible, as in the case of the hapless victim we are dealing with."

The Court then stated that District Collectors cannot be mere spectators and react solely when an accident happens, but they are enjoined to act to avoid it. Thereby, directed the District Collectors, in their capacity as the heads of the District Disaster Management Authorities, to issue orders with respect to any road in which potholes are found and to take necessary action against the jurisdictional Engineer, contractors or any other person who may be responsible.

It was further ordered that the earlier directions of the Court to initiate Vigilance cases and other investigations shall continue to hold effect, and it will be supplementary to the afore directions.

The matter has been posted for 19th August.

Case Title: C.P Ajithkumar & Anr. v. State of Kerala & Ors.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw(Ker) 418

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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