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The long road to compensation

Dalia Bibi's suicide has shaken the conscience of legal experts assisting the government to get rid the city of the killer buses, reports Harish V Nair.
Hindustan Times | By Harish V Nair
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2008 02:44 AM IST

Dalia Bibi's suicide has shaken the conscience of legal experts assisting the government and the Delhi High Court to get rid the city of the killer buses.

With such killings by the government-controlled buses becoming an everyday affair, they have demanded a compensation format for victims of Blueline accidents on the lines of Indian Railways, wherein the government immediately pays a minimum of Rs 1 lakh as an interim relief in case of casualties.

"120 lives were lost in 2007. This year, the toll is already 13. Most of them were sole breadwinners. The extreme step taken by the wife of one such poor man sends dangerous signals. The whole issue is assuming a different societal angle. The situation seems to be spiralling out of control," senior lawyer Kailash Vasdev, appointed by the Delhi High Court as amicus curiae (to assist the court on the issue), told the Hindustan Times.

Favouring instant compensation, Vasdev said: "The government is earning crores from traffic fines. Some of it can be diverted for this noble cause. We will take it up in the court. Those who lost their wage earner need it. Where is the time for the cumbersome and long-pending procedures before the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal or Lok Adalats, which start with the injured running pillar to post for getting disability certificates?" To add to the mess, 13,100 cases are currently pending before the 16 MACT courts in Delhi, he said.

AJ Bhambani, another lawyer involved in the case, agrees: "Yes, a parallel can be drawn between railways and the Bluelines. Though the buses are privately owned, they are government-run and a mode of public transport. Let the bus owner pay and the amount can be later adjusted against the MACT claim".

Under section 124 of the Railway Act, the railways is liable to pay immediate interim compensation for death/injury of a passenger in an accident. They are also liable to compensate a platform-ticket holder in untoward incidents such as terrorist acts, robbery, dacoity, rioting, shootout or arson by any person in the train or within the precincts of a railway station or accidental falling of a passenger from train.

Bhambani said the Delhi High Court had initiated a small step in this direction by levying Rs 1 lakh on owners for the release of buses involved in fatal accidents and Rs 50,000 on those causing grievous injuries, and with its plans to release the amount to the victims.

"People dying in jhuggi fires get ex-gratia for an incident in which there is no government involvement. But the case of a state-licensed bus service repeatedly killing people is not found deserving for any compensation," says Jasbir Malik, counsel for the Association of Victims of Blueline Accidents.

Malik said when a Blueline killed 8 people at Badarpur, the government announced Rs 1 lakh for each one of the victim because of the media coverage. "Are the hundreds who died on different days not worthy of compensation? There should be a level compensatory format. How can the government discriminate?" he asked.

Pooja Aganpal, counsel for the bus operators, does not oppose the idea of instant compensation but says the amount should be recovered from the insurance companies.

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