Negligence by BSES Rajdhani in maintaining electric wires was writ large, the Delhi High Court recently said awarding Rs. 10 lakh compensation to the family of a person who passed away after being exposed to live electric wire (Munni Devi vs GNCTD & Ors).
The order was passed by a single-Judge Bench of Justice Jayant Nath in a petition preferred under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
In May 2017, the petitioner’s 23-year-old son lost his life due to electrocution after he was exposed to live electric wire.
As per the petitioner, the death of his son was totally attributable to the negligence of the respondents, Delhi government and BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BSES RPL).
The petitioner was a housewife, suffering from acute anaemia while her husband, a labourer, earned about Rs. 48000 per annum. It was stated that they had no other source of income and the petitioner, a resident of Darbhanga, Bihar, was running from pillar to post in Delhi to get justice for their son.
In response, the Delhi government stated that it had no role to play in the incident as it happened in the jurisdiction of the distribution licensee BSES RPL.
BSES RPL raised several objections to the claim of compensation, including the issue of maintainability of the petition after twelve years.
The present writ was a bundle of disputed questions of facts which required extensive evidence by the parties and could not be decided within the ambit of writ jurisdiction, it was inter alia argued.
It was also pointed out that the petitioner had previously filed a suit for compensation and since the same had been withdrawn, no writ petition was maintainable for the same relief.
The Court recorded that in 2019, it had directed the Delhi government to place on record the report of the Electricity Inspector with respect to the incident of electrocution.
It further recorded that the police officer concerned was also directed to explain the steps taken pursuant to the petitioner’s complaint. However, the record in question were said to have been destroyed in normal course, it noted.
The Court observed that there was no report of the Electricity Inspector and opined that the petitioner could not be made to suffer for the inefficiency of the concerned functionaries.
In view of the post-mortem conducted at AIIMS Hospital, the Court stated that the cause of death of the petitioner’s son was shock due to electrocution and all injuries were ante-mortem in nature.
Since, admittedly, BSES RPL was the distribution company of the area in question, the Court held that the principle of res ipsa loquitur will clearly apply.
“..facts speak for themselves and the principle of res ipsa loquitur will clearly apply in these facts.. A clear averment has been made in the petition that respondent No.2/BSES-RPL was guilty of negligence. A young boy has died after coming in contact with a live electric wire that has fallen on the road. In the counter affidavit vague and evasive denial has been made. Clearly based on the above facts and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, it is clear that respondent No.2/BSES-RPL is guilty of negligence. The death of the deceased took place due to the negligence of respondent No.2,” the judgment said.
The Court also placed reliance on a Supreme Court decision to hold that the company supplying electricity was liable for damages without proof that they had been negligent based on the principle of absolute liability.
The Court also refused to accept BSES RPL’s claim that it had no knowledge of the incident as it was contrary to the stand of Delhi Police.
“Even otherwise, it is a strange submission being made by the distribution company In-charge of distribution of electricity in the area. It is inconceivable that a death has taken place due to electrocution from the distribution wires within the territory of respondent No.2 on a public street and respondent No.2 claims ignorance of such a major incident. The plea of respondent No.2 cannot clearly be believed. This vague plea of respondent No.2 fortifies my conclusion of the negligence of respondent No 2. The negligence of respondent No.2 in maintaining electric wires is writ large on the face of the record.”
It also reiterated that it has the power to award compensation in appropriate cases under Article 226 jurisdiction.
Considering that the deceased was doing his graduation from Indira Gandhi Open University, the Court stated that his earning should have been at least around the minimum wages and after graduation, he would have earned at least Rs 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 a month.
“I, accordingly, award a sum of Rs.10,00,000/- (Ten Lakhs only) as compensation to the petitioner,” the Court ordered.
As per the Court’s order, the compensation amount would be the liability of respondents BSES RPL and Reliance General Insurance Company Ltd, jointly and severally.
Advocate Ankita Patnaik from Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee appeared for the petitioner.
Additional Standing Counsel Jawahar Raja appeared for Delhi Government. Senior Advocate Ravi Gupta with Advocate Anju Thomas appeared for BSES-RPL.
Advocates Rajeev M Roy and P Srinivasan appeared for Reliance General Insurance.