Human life, as we all know by now, is cheap in India. That’s why a US multinational could get away with paying a few dollars after killing over 3, 000 people – and maiming thousands more over many generations – with an act of gross criminal negligence at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal on a cold December night in 1984. That’s why the Italian government could buy immunity from criminal proceedings for its two marines, who shot two innocent Kerala fishermen dead in Indian waters in cold blood after ‘mistaking them for being pirates’, by paying Rs 10 crore as compensation.
And perhaps because Odisha is among the poorest states in India, life here appears to be even cheaper than it is in the rest of the country, if the latest ‘drain death’ in Smart City Bhubaneswar is anything to go by. A ‘magnanimous’ state government has sought to silence the disquiet over the unfortunate death of Jyoti Prakash Behera, a Class X student who fell into an open drain and was swept away to death on Sunday, with a ‘generous’ ex-gratia of 4 lakh rupees.
Ruling party mandarins have added insult to injury by terming it as an ‘accident’ something that should have ideally warranted pressing of charges under Sec 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)! (Thank God for small mercies; the authorities have not filed a case of ‘criminal negligence’ posthumously against the teenager for his ‘criminal negligence’ in venturing out into an overflowing road!!).
The BJP has sought to derive some political mileage from the unfortunate incident by filing a case against the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and asking for the arrest of its commissioner. But the party knows, as do all of us, that this is just political grandstanding that would not cause the slightest discomfiture to anyone in the BMC or in the government.
No heads will roll. No one will be held accountable. No minister or official is going to lose any sleep over the incident. The media would move on to other stories. Soon, it would be back to business as usual; till the next such mishap that is. After all, if a Supreme Court rap on the knuckle could not do it, it is unrealistic to expect the concerned authorities to suddenly wake up to the grim reality now and cover all open drains in the city post haste.
If the authorities – and one is not talking about the BMC alone here - bothered about such things at all, the first such incident in 2015, when another teenager fell into a ditch in Nayapalli and died, should also have been the last one. The fact that there have been at least four (six, as per some accounts) such incidents since then goes to prove that the ‘authorities’ couldn’t care less about their responsibility of ensuring the safety of the citizens.
This criminal negligence, however, is not limited to open drains alone. It is evident in every activity undertaken by the authorities: live electric wires hanging on the roads; ditches dug bang on the middle of the road for everything from road repairs to laying of underground cables without any signage to warn commuters about them; fallen trees or their trunks lying on the road for days together – and so on. Nor is it restricted to Bhubaneswar. If anything, things are even worse in the rest of the state. Scores of people die or lose their limbs across the state due to the gross callousness of civic authorities.
It’s high time such callousness comes with a price tag, accountability is fixed and the perpetrators are made to pay dearly for their criminal negligence – whether in terms of a jail sentence or a hefty fine. Because every life is precious. Even one death due to civic negligence is one too many!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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