Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why do we let civic agencies get away with it?

Why do we let civic agencies get away with it?

B.S. Ramesh
Lack of awareness of their legal rights forces Bangaloreans to accept the unacceptable
— Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Taking them to task: A civic agency that has failed to discharge its duty can be asked to pay compensation. Few are aware of Section 22 (B) of the Lok Adalat Act that brings civic and public agencies under its ambit.

BANGALORE: Who is accountable when a child is swept away in a stormwater drain, or an unsuspecting pedestrian falls into an open manhole? Or when an autorickshaw tips over on its side injuring the driver and passenger because the driver could not see that the road had been dug up as the streetlights were not working? Is it the State Government, the civic agency concerned or the bureaucrat in charge?

Bangalore’s chaotic urbanisation has made life dangerously unsafe. Look around you. Mounds of uncleared garbage, heaps of construction material, clogged drains and overflowing sewers, potholed roads, overhanging power lines and wide open trenches dug up for laying cables and pipes, not to mention the havoc caused by Namma Metro construction.

The city has become notorious for its massive traffic hold-ups. Faced with the daily chaos, where can the average citizen seek effective redressal when he or she becomes a victim of civic neglect?

When it rains, the city within no time is transformed into a huge water body, and no citizen can safely guess where an open manhole or uncovered drain might lie under the muddy waters.

The result is a number of water-related deaths every time the city experiences heavy rain. Similarly, loose wires and open transformers have led to electrocutions while dug up footpaths and roads pose a danger to life and limb.

When a death due to the carelessness of a civic body takes place, the citizens and the media raise a hue and cry, and bureaucrats and politicians make the usual noises. A monetary compensation is quickly doled out and the tragedy fades from public consciousness. Not many are willing to initiate action against civic agencies or its officials.

What you can do
So what are the avenues available to citizens to get justice when negligence by a civic body results in death or injury? All civic bodies have grievance redressal cells, the first port of call for an aggrieved citizen, and Public Eye has discussed these separately. There are other legal avenues for the citizen who is willing to prepare for a long haul.

The former Advocates-General R.N. Narasimha Murthy and B.V. Acharya say the public can lodge complaints against civic agencies with the Upa Lokayukta when the agencies do not act. A criminal case can be instituted against errant officials under Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for immediate relief, for example if any project drags on for such a long time it comes in the way of routine life.

Senior advocate S.P. Shankar says an aggrieved citizen can file a suit against the civic agency concerned, or refer the matter under Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) for mediation, arbitration or even to the Lok Adalat. Once the matter is referred for mediation at Nyaya Degula, the court fee is refunded in full.

A citizen can also file public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the High court against the Government or its agencies if they fail to provide amenities or shirk responsibility. For individual relief, he can file a Writ of Mandamus. A citizen can claim damages for injury on account of the inaction of the civic authority only under Section 91 (1-B) of the CPC.

The Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) and the High Court Legal Services Cell have been taking up several issues of public concern. Apart from filing petitions in the court, they have also held Lok Adalats to get the grievances redressed. Cases can be taken up by them for compromise under Section 19 and 20 of the Lok Adalat Act. Similarly, cases can be taken up under Section 22 (B) of the Act.

A civic agency that has failed to discharge its duty can be asked to pay compensation. Unfortunately, very few people are aware of Section 22 (B), which brings civic and public agencies under its ambit.

Consumer Forum
Another instrument is the Consumer Forum, which is generally quicker than the courts in delivering verdicts. However, not many are aware of these legal remedies. Mr. Acharya and Mr. Murthy point out that once citizens start exercising these rights, the authorities are bound to fall in line.

Sadly, lack of awareness of their legal rights has forced Bangaloreans to accept the unacceptable. The few who dare to question and fight are discouraged by the bureaucratic wall of silence and apathy.


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