24 students from the VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology were washed away at the beas river while on a study tour. The incident took place due to sudden surge of river water released from a hydro electric project. The Himachal High Court had taken suo motu cognizance of the issue and has now awarded 20 lakh compensation to the parents of the deceased while holding the Electricity Board, the College & the State Government responsible for the incident.
In June 2014, twenty four (24) young students from the Hyderabad based VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology were washed away in a fatal accident at the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh. The accident took place due to sudden surge of river water released upstream from Larji hydro electric project. The Students had gone to Himachal Pradesh on a study tour.
The Suo Motu Case in the Himachal High Court
The Himachal Pradesh high court took suo motu cognizance of the incident based on a news item. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was taken up by the high court in June 2014.
Based on the directions from the court, a FIR was filed under Sections 336 & 304-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Both these sections relate to causing death by negligence.
During the course of the hearing, an interim compensation of 5 lakh rupees per deceased student was awarded to the Parents in 2014. The Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board & the College were directed to bear the compensation amount equally.
The Parents plea to the Court
The parents of the deceased students submitted the records relating to placement, remunerations, fees and other emoluments extended to the students by the companies at the time of their placement. The court observed that the bright future of the students was snatched away and the parents stand deprived of the source/income, hope and help in old age.
The Court’s authority to award compensation
The high court relied on a number of case laws to come to the conclusion that the Courts may award compensation under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and the award of compensation against the State is an appropriate and effective remedy. In Sube Singh Vs State of Haryana, the Supreme Court observed the following.
The Himachal Electricity Board, the College & the State to blame
The court observed that the negligence, carelessness and recklessness of the electricity board authorities had led to the incident. It also said that the authorities failed to take due care. The court further observed that the place of the incident was unknown to the students who were on a tour and the incident would not have occurred if the authorities had put boards, hoardings, sirens, signals and taken precautions at the relevant time, while discharging the water from the barrage/reservoir.
The court also found fault with the college authorities that they should have anticipated where the students were going and the result of the same. The court also found fault with the Himachal Pradesh state government that it failed to ensure that the board was discharging its duty properly.
The court felt that the parents have lost a source of dependency and that just compensation must be awarded to them since the state was primarily responsible for the loss of young lives. It went onto note that the students would have earned handsome salaries after their studies given the reputation of the college. The court observed that the minimum amount they would have earned is Rs 25,000 per month.
The Amount of Compensation
The court relied on various case laws and the multiplier used in the case of motor vehicle accidents to decide on the amount of compensation. The court directed that a compensation of 20 lakh rupees per student be awarded to the parents with an interest of 7.5% per annum from the date of accident to the date of final payment. The 20 lakh rupees include the interim compensation of 5 lakh rupees.
The 20 lakh rupees will be shared in the ratio 60:30:10 by the Electricity Board, the College & the State of Himachal Pradesh.
Apart from the compensation granted by the court, the parents received ex-gratia from various state governments and insurance amount.
While no amount of compensation can bring back young lives, the compensation will at least help the parents lead a decent life.