The Kerala High Court directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to take immediate steps to rectify every road under their control within a week from Monday, August 8. The order was passed by Justice Devan Ramachandran on Monday after amicus curiae Advocate Vinod Bhat brought to the notice of the court a recent incident where a person died after falling due to a pothole on a national highway, and the existence of huge craters and potholes in some stretches of national highways in the state. The court observed that the roads of Kerala cannot be made into “killing fields – whether it be under the NHAI, PWD or the Local Self Government Institutions.”
Earlier last week, the High Court had earlier initiated a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on its own to monitor flood relief activities in Kerala.
The court also said that “we do not react until we are the victim or someone we know faces such a situation. It is always as if accidents only happen to others and not to ourselves.” Pointing out to The Disaster Management Act, 2005, the judge said that it empowers the district Collectors – who are the heads of the District Disaster Management Authority – to take action to avoid every disaster.
Stating that the word ‘disaster’ is by definition ‘a mishap of calamity through man made causes’, potholes and craters being allowed to be formed on a road are certainly man made causes, the judge said, and added that the district Collectors cannot be mere spectators and react solely when an accident happens.
The court also said that it was the responsibility of the Disaster Management Authority of every district to proactively ensure that such accidents do not happen, whether in roads that come under the National Highways, PWD (Public Works Department) roads, or any other road. The court also pulled up the district Collectors and said that they have ‘definitive roles’ as the heads of District Disaster Management Authorities on issues related to roads, particularly potholes and craters.
“Even solitary ones will have to be taken note of and acted upon, fixing full responsibilities upon the engineers, contractors and other persons entrusted with the road. This Court cannot keep on passing orders every time there is a disaster. It is for the District Collectors to now act and this Court has no doubt about it,” the court observed, and ordered the Collectors to take action against anyone responsible for damaged roads.