It’s a new trend, both morbid and mournful. As private buses of transport companies owned by influential politicians continue to run riot on Punjab roads, accidents involving such buses have inadvertently become a source of income for victims’ kin who strike a compromise with the perpetrators in lieu of a hefty compensation that usually runs in lakhs.
The result: Justice delivery takes a backseat.
With the SAD-BJP regime reeling under unprecedented anti-incumbency, it has almost become a norm that a private bus company belonging to the Badals or their associates and whose vehicle is involved in an accidental death or injury will have to pay through the nose. However, the compensation ensures that the accident doesn’t snowball into a statewide political controversy.
Many such cases with a gruesome similarity have come to surface. However, what remains unchanged is the reckless manner in which the drivers of these private buses ply their vehicles. Most drivers continue to behave like maniacs, read killers, on the loose as their priority just remains reaching the bus stop before their rivals.
Moga horror: No justice in sight
In May, a mother-daughter duo in Moga was allegedly thrown off a moving bus of the Orbit company —co-owned by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The mother was trying to save her daughter, who was being allegedly molested by the bus staff.
While the girl Arshdeep Kaur (13) died on the spot, her mother was grievously injured. At that time, all opposition parties joined hands and staged round-the-clock protests outside the hospital where the woman was being treated, demanding registration of a first information report (FIR) against Sukhbir. The matter, however, died a sudden death when the victim’s family was given Rs 24 lakh by the company. The amount was routed through the Red Cross.
On September 10, police presented a challan in the local court against the bus driver, conductor and two helpers for murder. Shockingly, on December 11, three crucial witnesses, including the victim’s father, turned hostile in court. The victim’s father and two passengers said they had no clue when the crime had been committed. And unlike a plethora of politicians who had supported the family following the accident, now no one seems to be interested in ensuring that the culprits are brought to the book.
Ropar death: Bus driver gets away
In July, a 40-year old scooterist Swaran Singh was killed in an accident near Ropar toll plaza involving an Orbit bus and a car. The victim’s body was placed in the middle of the road and after two days of protest, addressed by the Congress and AAP leaders, the family was apparently given a compensation of Rs 22.5 lakh on behalf of the company. The protest ended following the cremation of the victim.
A case was registered by police against car driver Brahm Prakash Sharma but it had no mention about the bus driver.
Now, it seems, no one is interested to follow up the case to assess the role of the bus driver. The special investigation team constituted by police has also given a clean chit to the bus driver saying the bus wasn’t involved in the accident, which was caused by the car. On August 28, police submitted a challan against the car driver in the local court. The trial is yet to begin.
Channu case: No respect for the dead
The death of another young girl in Channu village in Muktsar on December 11 is the latest example of these payoffs. Arshdeep Kaur, a 14 year-old school girl, was crushed to death under the wheels of a New Deep company bus of a Gidderbaha Akali leader. The bus driver and conductor fled from the spot while angry villagers smashed the abandoned vehicle. The incident led to a protest with villagers blocking the road. The dharna was lifted when the girl’s family was allegedly paid `10 lakh, apparently by the bus company.
What was shocking, and different, in this protest, was the manner in which Punjab Police dragged the body of the girl in the middle of the night for a hurried cremation. The bus owners, who had obviously learnt their lessons by now, made sure that before the morning dawned, the matter was “resolved”. While a case was registered against the driver Baljit Singh who was arrested the same evening, no one questioned the manner in which cops dragged the body in the middle of the night. Police, however, were quick to slap two cases on 130 protesters (including 70 booked for attempt to murder), who had allegedly set afire the bus and also “attacked” cops.
Battling it out
In January 2013, an Orbit bus hit the car of Hardev Singh, a hockey coach from Patiala. The accident, that also involved a truck, left him maimed for life. A case was registered against bus driver Kulwant Singh and the truck driver.
However, in the challan, police put the entire blame of the accident on the truck driver. The bus driver’s name as an accused was missing in the document. “It’s shocking to see that people don’t want to fight these persons and settle for a compromise. I am neither open to compromise nor am I going to be scared or pressured. I will fight them come what may,” says Hardev Singh.
Traffic adviser to the Punjab government Navdeep Asija said on an average 5,500 accident FIRs are registered in the state in a year while the number of accidents is much higher.
“The 108 ambulance service is shifting almost 30,000 seriously injured accident victims to hospitals every year. Another 30,000 victims are transported through 120 community ambulances. This means around 55,000 accidents are going unreported and ending in compromises,” he added.
The trend is visible in other states too where people have high per capita income, says Asija. In case of VIP vehicles, the compensation amount is higher. “When cases are not registered and you can pay up for the accident, the fear of law vanishes,” he adds.
(With inputs from BB Goyal, Ketan Gupta and Arjun Sharma)