Mumbai: What happens when citizens take legal recourse against BMC?
At a time when the Mumbai civic body ie. BMC has been blamed for three back-to-back deaths, those who’ve suffered say even an apology is hard to come by. Here's what they have to say
Dadarao Bhilore, who lost his son to a pothole accident in 2015, has been filling potholes with gravel every day after work since. PIC/SATEJ SHINDE
"Honestly, I am scr***d," says Vijay Hingorani, 51, over the phone. He takes a minute to steady his voice, still under shock at the one step that changed his life.
In November 2015, the Bandra resident was walking on the footpath across the road from Otters' Club on Carter Road, Bandra, when he stepped on a covered manhole only to have the cover collapse under his weight. "I was in the gutter for over an hour and suffered three fractures on the left leg. The doctors told me that I had escaped narrowly. Had I cut my spine or skull, I would have been either brain dead or paralysed for life," he says. The escape that he did manage wasn't fortuitous either.
Dadarao Bhilore who lost his son to a pothole accident on July 28, 2015, now fills up the city’s craters so that others don’t suffer the same fate. He is awaiting the next hearing of the case at the Borivli court. Pic/Satej Shinde
Hingorani, who was about to head to Bengaluru to join a job that would pay him Rs 2.5 lakh a month, was bedridden for months. "I was an active person, and would jog and swim. And then, suddenly I couldn't go to the bathroom on my own." The financial hit was harder. In the last one year alone, he has spent Rs 40 lakh on various surgeries to fix the fracture and curb the infections that he suffered. "His father is a doctor, so there is a source of income, but he is 85 years old," says Laxman Kanal, a Chembur-based advocate and Hingorani's friend who now acts as his lawyer.
After the fall, Hingorani had threatened to sue the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for Rs 1.5 crore. But, there's been no progress on that. "We sent one notice to the BMC — The municipal commissioner, assistant municipal commissioner, and the ward officer of H-West ward — but were told that it didn't follow the required format. We followed it up with one that did. It was dated February 28, 2016," says Kanal of the notice sent under section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure Code and section 527 of the MMC Act. But, it's been more than one-and-a-half years and there has been no response. "Vijay's parents are in their 80s, and he is not in a position to run around the courts. He realised that the BMC had not even bothered to respond to the notice, so chances that it might actually compensate him are quite slim," adds Kanal.
Rekha and Pradeep Thapar at their residence at Sion-Koliwada. They have been awarded a compensation of Rs 1 lakh by the Lokayukta. PIC/PRADEEP DHIVAR
The thousand-odd crore annual budget is a figure that the BMC touts proudly. It's regularly the highest earning municipal corporation in the country. In 2016-17, it earned Rs 25,642 crore — its major sources of income are property tax, octroi, water and sewerage taxes and development charges. In the next year, BMC's revenue is predicted to fall, bringing in Rs 23,281 crore. Compare this figure to the average figure earned by the Delhi municipal corporation which is a little over Rs 2,146 crore, and even then what the BMC will go to the bank with next year is pretty high. Yet, for a high earning member of society (that earns its money through taxes paid by citizens), its performance hasn't been on par. Several complaints are registered each year on the BMC's own website or with its disaster management cell. This year, for instance, between June 1 and July 24, the total number of complaints related to trees alone amount to over 1,400. And, while these numbers don't seem to get the BMC's goat, a satirical video by RJ Malishka did. Initial plans were to file a Rs 500-crore defamation case against the radio jockey. However, with the support that she garnered from Mumbaikars, the civic body sent her mother a Rs 10,000 notice after it found a mosquito breeding spot at their Bandra home.
Just how little the civic body plans to remain accountable for its work was made clearer last week when, after Chembur resident Kanchan Nath was crushed under a fallen coconut tree — a dead one that residents had asked to be cut in February — falling on her, the civic body washed its hands of the matter.
The former Doordarshan anchor's husband, Rajat, 55, says the local civic official asked him, "Why was she walking on the road?".
"Shops have taken over the footpath. And even if she were walking on the footpath, the tree would have still hit her." Nath's voice is rising as he speaks and then apologises for the tone. But, the apathy that he has faced doesn't end at the BMC. Nath, who wants to sue the BMC approached Chembur police station to register an FIR — under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the IPC — against the body and its officials. "But, I was told by the officer there that they do not have directions from 'above' to take this action." It took Nath a petition circulated across Chembur, getting the support of BJP politician Shaina NC and a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to be assured of some action and compensation in the case. That his wife is dead is a fact that none of this will change, however.
"I just want the BMC to own up, apologise and accept in print that they have made a mistake," he adds.
But, if the experience of Sheldon and Marilyn Remedios is anything to go by, Nath might be waiting for quite a long time.
Bandra resident Marilyn Remedios was riding pillion with her husband Sheldon when the bike struck a pothole near Mahim Causeway, flinging the two off. Marilyn, 42, who suffered severe brain trauma was left in coma for almost a month.
At 5 am on April 6, 2015, Bandra resident Marilyn Remedios was riding pillion with her husband, Sheldon, when the bike struck a pothole near Mahim Causeway, flinging the two off. Marilyn, 42, who suffered severe brain trauma was left in coma for almost a month. "During surgery, doctors had to remove a part of her skull. I still have it at home. While her condition is better now, she suffers frequent seizures. We have suffered financially as I am the only earning member. Our life changed after the accident. We lodged a complaint at the human rights court and the case came up for hearing last week. The judge has asked us to lodge a complaint against the BMC through the police," says Sheldon, 50. The reply that the BMC gave in court, however, was: "It was some drainage water on the road. There was no pothole on the road at the time and please dispose the case." The response angers Sheldon, who more than the compensation, hopes for accountability. "Hundreds of people are dying every year owing to the BMC's negligence, but there's no responsibility," adds Sheldon, who runs an event management firm.
In 2015, the Bombay High Court while directing the civic administrations in Mumbai, Thane and three other municipalities in Thane district, as well as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) to maintain all roads under their control and keep them pothole-free, held that the right to a pothole-free road was a fundamental right of the citizens under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution i.e. the right to life. It also makes compensation in such cases a right.
It's been two years to the day that Andheri East resident Dadarao Bhilore lost his son, Prakash, after the 16-year-old hit a pothole while riding a bike on JVLR. The road, the father says, was dug up for cable work by the BMC and an electricity supply firm. The deadline was past and it wasn't covered up. "They fixed it the day after we filed an FIR following my son's death. At the spot, I was told that many accidents had occured prior. While the case came up for a hearing, we aren't aware of its progress. The next hearing is in November, but I don't even know who the prosecutor in the case is."
While he awaits justice, Bhilore has taken it up on himself to ensure that no one else suffers the fate his son did. For the last two years, he has been filling potholes with gravel after finishing his morning's work at the vegetable shop he runs on Marol-Maroshi Road. How long will the wait continue?
It might be a while, given the process of the judiciary. In 1985, advocate Anant Datar took the BMC to court after he fell off his scooter on a potholed road. It was 15 years later in 2000 that the sessions court asked the civic body to pay him a compensation of Rs 1.27 lakh.
No answers either
An initial phone conversation with Rekha Thapar could leave you flustered at her stoicism. The 50-year-old who lives with her husband and daughter Monica at their Sion-Koliwada home says matter-of-factly, "Ask any of the shopkeepers in the lane for Akash's mother, they will direct you to my house."
Akash, was her 19-year-old son, an IT engineering student at Don Bosco Institute of Technology who along with seven others was charred to death when a fire broke out post a cylinder blast at Kurla's City Kinara restaurant in October 2015. "I saw the bodies," says Thapar's brother-in-law Pawan, "They were charred in the position they were eating or holding their phones. They didn't so much as have a chance to escape."
Subsequent investigation has led to a series of slip-ups by various government agencies. The restaurant itself, with an illegal mezzanine floor where seven of the teenagers were trapped, was operating without a licence. It was not even fire compliant, and as far as the gas connections go, they were illegal too. "All this information we collected on our own over six months through various RTIs that we filed," says Nicholas Almeida of The Watchdog Foundation, which took the Kinara fire case to the Lokayukta Court, winning the parents a compensation of R1 lakh each. While awarding the compensation in the case, the court held four officers from the BMC's medical health department, L-ward, accountable. They have been suspended and the owner of the restaurant who was arrested is being tried in the case at the Kurla Metropolitan Magistrate Court.
But the response has brought the families no closure. "All we had to identify him by was the buckle of his belt," says Pradeep, 55, Akash's father.
Meanwhile, The Watchdog Foundation is planning to move the Bombay High Court to get both a higher compensation and also bring to book the cops who allowed the restaurant a police licence, the fire brigade that gave it a fire licence and the HPCL distributor who provided the gas cylinders despite lack of proper registration.
Rekha tries to hold her tears back, "I don't know what killed my son. Surely I have the right to know."
Suraj Ojha and Laxman Singh
What's your recourse?
"FIR is a first information report and so, if an incident occurs, it can be filed," says Former IPS officer and lawyer YP Singh. "After this, evidence is collected and consequent to that, if a person is found guilty, they can be sent for trial. Even if the person doesn't know exactly whom to blame in such cases, an FIR can be registered against an unknown person/s. The collection of samples, summoning of witnesses can be done only after an FIR is registered."
Singh adds that police officials have the right to register an FIR against civic officials. "More than the Lokayukta, the appeal should be made to the Human Rights Commission, which has the right to uphold the right to life and has greater powers to order monetary compensation. The best remedy is to sue them in the civil court."
Police response to Kanchan Nath case
Lakhmi Gautam, additional commissioner of police (East region) says, "As of now, we have not registered an FIR in the case. We have registered an accidental death report (ADR) and further inquiry is on. If we find any cognizable offense or negligence on the part of the civic officials, then we will register an FIR."
Tree falls in 2017
3 dead 1 injured
>On June 6, a 14-year-old boy died after a tree fell on him near Navy Nagar at Colaba
>On July 1 a 67-year-old autorickshaw driver died after a gulmohar tree fell on his vehicle, crushing him, in Borivli
>On July 22, 58-year-old Kanchan Nath succumbed to the injuries she'd sustained a few days ago after a coconut tree collapsed on her in Chembur
Tree falls in 2016
3 dead 26 injured