When mishaps of electricity occur due to the negligence of the electricity department, they cannot be termed as accidents. Similarly we cannot claim every mishap as the negligence of the department. . . But when a poor family loses its sole bread winner to an electric accident, what gives anyone the right to make them wait for five years for compensation, under the pretext of not receiving the appropriate documents in the right order?
Mohammad Sheikh hailed from the Mudnooru village of Vitla. He married Abdul Khader’s daughter Amina from Kambalabettu, and was blessed with four children. He was a labourer by profession. When his earnings did not suffice, Amina started rolling beedis to support the family. They were a content family despite all the hardships.
Like all the poor families Mohammed also lived in a small house without the basic amenity of a bathroom and toilet. The family met their needs of bath and toilet by the side of a nearby water stream where they would get water for about 8 months in a year.
When the mishap took place
On 23rd December 2001, Mohammed, who went to the stream to attend to the nature’s call, did not return home even after 1 o’clock. Amina got worried. Shortly, she spotted some people of the neighbourhood carrying Mohammed towards home and was panic stricken to find that he had suffered an electric shock.
A broken branch of the tree fell on the high tension electric wires passing above the bushes where Mohammed was emptying his bowels. The friction between the live wires of 110 KV flamed up the dried bushes underneath. Before Mohammed could get up from the place the fire engulfed him he was burnt up to the skin.
His painful screams for help drew the attention of Rafiq, Basha Saheb, Ibrahim and some others who rushed to the place. They doused the fire and pulled Mohammad out of the bushes. He was already charred from neck to his toes. They took him to Chetana hospital in Puttur by auto rickshaw. He was given the first aid and was advised to be taken immediately to the Wenlock hospital, Mangalore.
It was already 6 PM when they reached the Hospital. The burns department of the hospital attended to his injuries and prepared a report of his burns and sent it over to Pandeshwara Police Station. Albeit he remained conscious, Mohammad was in a very critical condition and was groaning in extreme pain.
The next day when the police arrived at 2 pm, he narrated the whole incident to them. They recorded how the high tension wires had rubbed against the dried bushes and caught fire. Mohammad’s right hand was completely burnt and he was unable to sign the recorded complaint so they took his left thumb impression instead.
The doctors struggled in vain as Mohammad fought for his life. But his condition worsened day by day. His right hand and legs had completely lost the sensation. But Amina persevered for his well being. She took him to Father Muller’s Hospital at Kankanady, Mangalore, for better treatment. She pleaded with the doctors to cure her husband at any cost. They had to amputate the toes of his left leg and fingers of the right hand in order to save his life but all in vain. After 40 days of battling, Mohammad succumbed to his injuries on 20-3-2002.
Amina was completely spent. After three months of the battle, she had spent every paisa she had. Mr Chandrashekhar, an inspector from the electricity department had taken her signatures on some papers saying, the department would provide compensation for Mohammad’s death. Amina had to clear a debt of 3 lakhs borrowed from friends and finance companies. She had no clue how and to whom to apply for the compensation, or what documents would be required for the same.
Attempts to obtain compensation
With the help of a school teacher Amina managed to apply to the Electricity Department in Vitla, requesting them for the compensation for her husband’s death in an electric accident.
She sent a copy of the letter to the Human Rights Protection Foundation asking them for guidance. The very next day, the activists of the Foundation contacted the Electricity Section in Vitla.
“All the details have been forwarded to the higher office in Mangalore on 18-1-2002. The family will be granted the money any day. This will be done in the routine way”, they replied humbly.
On confirming that all the details of the accident (letter numbered EEE/SRS/B-14/2674/77 dated 18-1-2002) had reached the higher office of the department, the activists did not make any further correspondence. Though the incident was published in the newspapers, people eventually forgot about it.
Meanwhile, widowed Amina waited for the compensation. She contacted Mr Chandrashekhar several times asking about it, but he consoled her saying, “Government proceedings usually take their time. Since the details of the accident have already been sent, the money will definitely be granted.” “Why don’t you enquire at the Mangalore Electricity Supply Company (MESCOM) office at Vitla?”, he suggested another time. But when she went to the Vitla office, they told her to enquire at the office in Mangalore. After three years of running from pillar to post, as a last resort she approached a lawyer. The lawyer enquired if her husband had given any statement to the police before his death. Where was the FIR of the accident? Where was the post mortem report? Poor Amina did not understand what he was talking about and where she could find all these reports.
Support from the Foundation
As per the lawyer’s advice, she approached the Human Rights Protection Foundation office. The activists obtained all the details from her and sent a letter directly to the Executive Engineer of MESCOM. It said, “It’s been three years since the accident took place and no compensation has been granted till date. Who should Mrs Amina contact to receive the money she is entitled to?”
The reply from the official, received within ten days revealed that he was aware of the said incident taken place on 23-12-2001.
The following points from the letter of the department may be observed.
“. . . We learnt that Mr. Sheikh Mohammad had had burn injuries on his hand and below the chest. We also came to know that he was first taken to Chetana Hospital, and then moved to Wenlock Hospital. Later on he was taken to Father Muller’s hospital on 11-1-2002 for better treatment and getting well. . . But I regret to state that there is no notice of his death whatsoever either from you or from the Vitla section office.” He had sent copies of this letter to all the concerned offices of MESCOM. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Foundation, requesting them to send all the information about the incident and copies of all the letters and correspondence, if any, made with the Department.
The most puzzling thing was that none of the offices had any document related to Mohammad’s accident or Amina’s application for compensation. But fortunately, Human Rights Protection Foundation had preserved all the documents; Amina’s application for compensation dated 28-3-2002, and the letters from the department dated 11-1-2002 and 18-1-2002. Photocopies of all these documents were sent to the MESCOM officials in Kavooru. The activists of the foundation guided Amina to obtain the FIR, Muhammad’s death certificate, succession certificate from the Tahshildar which were the documents essential to claim the compensation. On 2-06-2006, within 15 days, all these were sent to the concerned.
Why the delay?
Five years had elapsed since the accident! The BPL family had lost their sole bread winner. Did they have to wait for such a long period for the compensation? Knowing that Amina was uneducated, whose responsibility was it to guide her and make her aware of the process and requirements of the same? Without considering any of that, was it right on the part of the department to shirk away from their responsibility saying that the right documents were not produced?
It is not a question of who was responsible for the accident. How could the department remain passive for five years, in spite of the knowledge that, a person had lost his life due to some problem related to their own department? Would they behave in the same fashion if it had been their own relative? If they had denied her any money, she would have at least moved the court! Even after five months of submitting all the required documents for the compensation the amount was not released to Amina! Is it a befitting action on the part of these QUALIFIED ENGINEERS to keep mum on the matter?
THE ABOVE ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN UDAYAVANI ON 16-11-2006 WITH A REQUEST TO THE READERS TO WRITE A POST CARD TO THE CONCERNED MESCOM OFFICERS ABOUT THEIR PROTEST/ VIEWS WITH A COPY MARKED TO THE FOUNDATION. THOUSANDS OF READERS RESPONDED TO THE ARTICLE BY WRITING TO THE KPTCL CHIEF ENGINEER SRI T.H. SIPPESHAPPA, MINISTER FOR ELECTRICITY AND THE CHIEF MINISTER OF KARNATAKA AND DEMANDED FOR JUSTICE TO AMINA.
Mohammed himself is responsible!
Within a week of this, the Chief Engineer of MESCOM Sri Adishesha replied’ “As per our records Sheik Mohammed met with this accident when he was illegally cutting the branches of the tree. The Corporation is in no way responsible for the said accident and for any compensation on this behalf to the deceased. However the Corporation has decided to grant the compensation on humanitarian grounds.
Assuming that MESCOM was right on their contention, the activists had the solace that at least the compensation was being granted.
Within a few days, the Foundation received another letter from Amina.
“Sir, I received a call from one Mr Muralidhar of MESCOM office, asking me to personally collect the compensation cheque for rupees one lakh. When I went to collect the cheque, I was asked to submit an undertaking stating that I would not make any further efforts asking for more compensation, before the release of the cheque. I begged them for more compensation as I had spent more than Rs. 3 lakhs towards my husband’s treatment. But I was denied of anything more and was threatened that if I did not submit the undertaking, even the sanctioned compensation would be forfeited. Owing to my poverty, I had to give in, and I submitted the undertaking. A copy of the same is enclosed. My apologies to you Sir, as I have submitted the same without consulting you. Yours, Amina.”
What does it mean?
The Foundation had assumed that Mohammad himself was responsible for the tragedy. But the attitude of the Corporation gave rise suspicions about the death. So, the Foundation decided to investigate into the matter.
An investigation committee led by Dr Nityananda Pai, of Consumer Forum, Puttur, visited the accident spot and collected the details. As per the rules, the Corporation has to clear the trees and plants up to a distance of 22m around the vicinity of the multi-circuit electric lines. It would be considered as negligence on the part of the Corporation, if they failed to do so.
The work of cutting down the trees is the responsibility of the Forest Department and the Electricity Department is responsible for supplying the RTC, and valuation of the trees in deciding the compensation to the land owners. When they visited the place, they saw that there was not a single tree within 22 m, of both sides of the electric lines. Suppose there was a tree five years ago, then whose responsibility was it to fell it. If it had not been done, was it not negligence on the part of the Corporation? The Foundation had sufficient records of proof that no efforts were made to remove the trees, until 2006.
If at all the matter went to the court, the negligence of the Corporation on this score would undoubtedly come to light. Dreading this eventuality, they had resorted to pressurize Amina to submit the undertaking.
Readers may think that Amina had erred by submitting the undertaking. But The Supreme Court and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission have declared that undertaking submitted due to force or out of helplessness bear no value. If the QUALIFIED OFFICERS of the Electricity Department are ignorant of this fact, let them judge themselves whether they deserve to hold their respective posts. Let no other hapless, illiterate woman like Amina fall a prey to such heinous acts of the so called educated people. Could you ever fathom that anybody could be so heartless?
(translated from 'Bahujana Hitaaya, Bahujana Sukhaya' by Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag)
(translated from 'Bahujana Hitaaya, Bahujana Sukhaya' by Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag)