The Himachal high court on Thursday pulled up government officials for their lapses in dealing with jaundice outbreak in Shimla.
Besides awarding an interim compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased, the court also issued a show-cause notice to officials. The court also made chief secretary, secretary (urban development), principal secretary (health), principal secretary (education), director public relations, member secretary, state pollution control board, all deputy commissioners (DCs), superintendents of police (SPs) and chief medical officers of all districts as respondents in the case.
“We deem it proper to award Rs 2 lakh interim compensation to the legal representatives of each of the deceased. The government is directed to deposit the amount of interim compensation before this court within four weeks,” read the court order.
According to government officials, Shimla has reported over 1,500 cases of jaundice in the past two months, and 10 people have already died after consuming contaminated water being supplied from Ashwani Khad in some parts of the state capital. The first jaundice death was reported on December 15 last year.
The 35-page order by a division bench comprising chief justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan pulled up state officials for failing to comply with the earlier court directions. “The chief secretary and the secretary, urban development, were supposed see that the officials concerned were discharging their duties properly. Prima facie, it appears that they have failed to do so. Had they passed requisite orders, there would not have been jaundice outbreak,” read the order.
Issuing a show-cause notice to secretary, irrigation and public health, Anuradha Thakur, the bench said the official stated in the court that the department complied with the earlier directions of court. “The secretary has stated that Ashwani Khad was not properly maintained and the government had issued orders for closing down the same, and in the same breath, she stated that the directions have been complied with,” the bench observed.
“The secretary is asked as to why action should not be taken against her for making incorrect/contradictory statements. Is she trying to shield her predecessors and subordinate officers, or is trying to carve out a case for them or rather is trying to mislead the court,” read the order.
The court also observed that the report filed by the member secretary, pollution control board, was in prima facie incorrect. The bench said: “He is asked to show-cause as to why he should not be prosecuted for filing a false affidavit in addition to the contempt proceedings already drawn against him.” The court also issued contempt notices to two IPH engineers and asked them as to why they should not be prosecuted for filing a false affidavit.
The court observed that Rs 99.45 lakh was due to the sewage treatment plant contractor as of January 31 this year and directed the irrigation and public health department not to release the due amount. High court directed the special investigating team (SIT), constituted by the state to investigate the jaundice outbreak, to take the probe to its logical end by pinpointing officials involved or responsible right from 2007 to date.
Scheme managed by Class-4 employees
A special investigating team constituted by the government to investigate the jaundice outbreak informed the court that the water supply scheme at Ashwani Khad was managed by Class-4 employees and senior officers never visited the site.
Officials asked to furnish details
The high court directed the chief secretary and secretary, irrigation and public health to furnish details of all officers who were manning the posts from 2007 — right from the chief engineer to peon. It has also sought details of the amount released to contractor, procedure followed and names of officials who passed the bills. It also sought a fresh status report from the officials within a week.