Manipur High Court: While deciding a case, wherein a five-year old girl came in contact with an electrical overhead line and lost both her arms, the Division Bench of Sanjay Kumar, CJ. And MV Muralidaran, J. held that there was negligence on the part of Manipur State Power Distribution Company Limited (MSPDCL) as it failed to maintain safety standards and carry out periodical inspections and compensation of Rs. 10,00,000 was correct and justified.
The State of Manipur; the Commissioner (Power), Government of Manipur; and MSPDCL were in appeal against the judgment and order passed by a Judge of this Court in 2019, wherein, the Judge allowed the writ petition and directed that a compensation of Rs. 10,00,000 should be paid to the writ petitioners.
Facts of the Case
A child aged about five years while playing in the verandah of the building where she and her family stayed on rent, came in contact with a 11KV electrical overhead line which passed adjacent to the building. Due to this, she sustained serious injuries resulting in amputation of both her arms at the shoulder level and her disability was quantified at 90%.
Her father filed a writ petition claiming compensation and stated that the artificial limbs for the child would cost about Rs. 7,00,000 and apart from this, the child’s future was severely impacted by the loss of her limbs. The prayer for compensation of Rs. 1,62,97,800 was founded on the violation of the child’s fundamental rights under Articles 14, 21 and 300 of the Constitution apart from an action in tort on the principles of res ipsa loquitur, strict liability and restitutio in integrum. The father contended that the authorities concerned failed to abide by the statutory norms in relation to installation and maintenance of the overhead line, which resulted in his young daughter being maimed for life.
Submissions on behalf of the Appellants
The appellants placed reliance on Rule 82 of the Indian Electricity Rules, 1956 (1956 Rules), and contended that no negligence was attributable to MSPDCL, and the child suffered electrocution owing to construction of a staircase near to the overhead line. The building in which the girl and her family lived, was constructed in 2009 without a staircase and the distance at that time from the 11 KV line was about 1.9 metres, which was permissible as the minimum horizontal clearance required under the rules was only 1.2 metres. The staircase was built in 2014 without obtaining necessary permission and without notice to the electricity authorities, so the distance from the 11KV line to the staircase was reduced to about 1.5 feet. Thus, the authorities were abiding by all the measures prescribed under law and therefore, they could not be mulcted with liability to pay compensation.
Analysis, Law and Decision
Considering the photographs placed on record, the Court opined that if periodical inspections would have been undertaken as mandated by Rule 46 of the 1956 Rules, then this incident could have been prevented. Moreover, the Court noted that in a congested city with narrow lines, it was the responsibility of MSPDCL to see that proper insulation was provided to overhead electrical lines which passed near the living quarters of the citizens. Thus, it was clear that the 11KV line had no protection insulation as required under Rule 29(1) of the 1956 Rules.
The Court also noted that the addition of the staircase to the building took place only in 2014 and there was no evidence of compliance with Rule 82 of the 1956 Rules by the building’s owner. Thus, there was a clear violation of Rule 82. However, this violation was not sufficient to exempt MSPDCL from responsibility, as maintenance of safety standards and periodic inspection of all installations and overhead lines was a statutory duty casted upon MSPDCL under Rules 29 and 46 of the 1956 Rules. Therefore, the statutory responsibility weighing upon MSPDCL as the distributor of electrical energy was far higher than the narrow responsibility resting on the building’s owner.
The Court noted that no material had been produced by MSPDCL in proof of safety standards being maintained, as per Rule 29 of the 1956 Rules, and periodical inspections had been carried out, as per Rule 46 of the 1956 Rules, at any point of time. Moreover, earlier a series of orders had been passed by this Court directing the authorities to ensure proper maintenance of electricity service lines, etc. to protect the citizens. Had any such inspection been made or proper action had been taken pursuant to these orders, then it may have resulted in some safety measures being put in place and saved this child from a lifetime of suffering. And redressal of such violations, in terms of being compensated monetarily, was amenable to the writ jurisdiction of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.
The Court held that the Judge was correct and justified in exercising writ jurisdiction and awarding compensation of Rs. 10,00,000. Therefore, no grounds were made out for interference with the order under appeal and accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
[State of Manipur v. Baby Khushi Kumari, 2022 SCC OnLine Mani 451, decided on 3-11-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
S. Nepolean, Advocate, for the Appellant(s);
Tungrei Ngakang, Advocate, for the Respondent(s).