HC pulls up Govt over 48 deaths in road accidents

The High Court on Tuesday pulled up the State Government over 48 deaths in two separate road accidents on Mughal road, and in Kishtwar district, in less than a month. It directed administrative heads of departments concerned, and top police and traffic officials to file responses to a plea seeking action against officers from different departments for “dereliction of duty”, within three weeks.

A division bench of Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur and Justice Sindhu Sharma, issued the directions on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Advocate Intakhab Ahmed Qazi. The PIL has sought directions to the Government to initiate appropriate action against ARTOs Poonch and Shopian, Senior Superintendent of Police (Traffic) Rural J&K, SHO Police Station Surankote for “negligence and dereliction of duty” which led to the tragic road accidents.

At least 11 students, including nine girls – all belonging to Surankote in Poonch, lost their lives in the accident on Mughal road on 27 June 2019 while 37 passengers died in another accident in Keshwan area of Kishtwar on 1 July 2019.

The bench took serious note of the accidents and issued notices to Principal Secretary (Home), Commissioner/Secretaries Transport Department, Public Works Department, Health and Medical Education Department, Director General of Police, Deputy Commissioners of Poonch, Rajouri, Shopian, Inspector General of Police (Traffic) J&K, Transport Commissioner J&K, Chief Engineer Mughal road, Executive Engineer Mughal road Surankote (Poonch), Senior Superintendent of Police (Traffic) rural Jammu/Kashmir, RTO Jammu, ARTOs Poonch, Rajouri and Shopian, seeking their response within three weeks.

After hearing advocate Ahmed, with advocates Rahul Raina, SupriyaChouhan and Muhammad ZulkarnainChowdhary, appearing for the petitioner, the bench headed by Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur issued directions to the Transport Commissioner to place before it the result of enquiry entrusted to Regional Transport Officer, Jammu with regard to expiry of the route permit of the Tempo Traveller, issuance of permit and the fitness certificate, besides reasons which led to the accident on Mughal road.

While directing Transport Commissioner to produce enquiry report with regard to death of 11 students, the Court noticed with concern the issues raised in the PIL and expressed its grave concern over “dance of death” on the roads, particularly on Mughal road and on the roads in erstwhile Doda district.

Expressing its concern, the Court asked the state authorities to give complete details about total number of traffic personnel deployed for regulating traffic in twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch, and also about personnel deployed in Doda and vulnerable roads of the districts.

The Court sought reply from IGP Traffic J&K to inform it about lack of supervision or the action, if any, initiated against officials/officers who were duty bound to check overloading of the offending vehicle which met with fatal accident on Mughal road.

The Court directed for details with regard to suspension/ cancellation of driving license of those drivers who repeatedly indulge in rash driving and asked for response with regard to banning of commercial/passenger vehicles, having more than 15 years life, on the pattern of NCR Delhi.

The Additional Advocate General Raman Sharma accepted notices on behalf of Principal Secretary Home J&K, Director General of Police, IGP (Traffic) while as Deputy Advocate General Arshad Majid Malik accepted notices on behalf of Commissioner/ Secretary Transport, Transport Commissioner, RTO Jammu, ARTOs Poonch, Rajouri and Shopian.

Both the State counsel assured the bench that replies shall be filed within stipulated period.

Advocate Ahmed submitted that the Mughal road, from ChattaPani to Peer-Ki-Gali, was in dilapidated condition and there was no blacktopping done on this stretch of road.

Besides, he said, the Chief Engineer Mughal road has “miserably failed” to ensure construction of road culverts/protection walls/road side barriers which was resulting in accidents.

Advocate Ahmed submitted that there was no trauma centre/accidental hospital on either side of Mughal road, and victims were being left on mercy of Almighty.

Also, he said there were no ambulances put on standby mode on Mughal road, on pattern of National Highway, adding that one of the major causes of road accidents in the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch was permissions given to unfit commercial vehicles.

He alleged that Transport and Motor Vehicles Departments and Traffic Police were allegedly hand in glove with owners/drivers of these unfit vehicles and there was a “dire need to post honest/upright officials in these Traffic Regulatory Departments to prevent the accidents”.

Ahmed submitted that mostly focus of Traffic Police was on twin capital cities and some important points on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and very less personnel was deputed for remote districts, vulnerable roads of Rajouri and Poonch and erstwhile Doda district.

He pleaded for directions to IGP Traffic to place before the Court total number of officials deputed for regulation of traffic in different district.

The Court impleaded National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and Border Roads Organization (BRO) as party respondents in the PIL. It clubbed the instant PIL with PIL Number 1 of 2018, filed by advocate Syed Asim Hashmi, on behalf of Bar Association Doda which too has highlighted road accidents in the districts.

The Court directed for listing of the fresh PIL along with PIL of 2018 immediately after three weeks.