The Hari Putar Dialogues - 74
(Indian Express ; New Delhi ; 31 August : A senior citizen out on his evening walk died on Friday after he reportedly fell into a manhole dug up by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in Malviya Nagar, South Delhi. The police said the body of 78-year-old Trilok Nath Makhen was discovered on Saturday morning by passersby. The police said Makhen lived in Shivalik Park with his 65-year-old wife, Jaya Rani. According to her, Makhen had gone out for a walk at 7.45 pm. When he failed to return till late, she asked some of her neighbors to look for him. When he did not return all night, she made a PCR call and registered a missing complaint. The police said there was no barricade around the manhole and they suspect Makhen fell in, as he could not spot the hole in time because of the darkness. Rani, however, is too heartbroken to hold grudges. She said her husband had to die and nothing could have changed it. 'His time had come, he had lived his life and one can't live more than one is destined to,' Rani said, as she sat with some old women.)
Putar: There is a report in the Indian Express today about how a senior citizen fell into a manhole and died.
Hari: That is so tragic. How did this happen?
Putar: 78-year-old Triloki Nath Makhen lived in Shivalik Park with his 65-year-old wife, Jaya Rani. According to her, Makhen had gone out for a walk at 7.45 pm, and never returned. He failed to return till late, so she asked some of her neighbors to look for him. When he did not return all night, she made a call to the Police Control Room and registered a missing complaint.
Hari: At the age of seventy-eight, he couldn't have walked very far from his house.
Putar: That's true. He'd have gone for a half hour walk, or one hour maximum.
Hari: This uncovered manhole itself must not have been far from his residence.
Putar: The neighbors who went looking for him must have passed it and not imagined that he had fallen inside it.
Hari: Why didn't he spot it?
Putar: The place was dark. The manhole should have been barricaded, which it wasn't. There should have at least been one of those luminous signs that shine in the dark warning people.
Hari: Such negligence. The poor wife.
Putar: It's very ironical in a way because Makhen apparently survived an air crash some years ago.
Putar: Yes. His wife Rani remembers that only four years after her marriage in 1973, Makan survived a plane crash in which several people died.
Hari: Imagine that! Surviving a plane crash and being eaten up by one of the Corporation's manholes. Those who died in the air crash must have received a fair amount of compensation from the airline.
Putar: That normally happens. I believe there is a certain amount paid to each passenger's family. This is quite apart from any private insurance a person may have taken out.
Hari: We don't know about the circumstances of the air crash, which Mr Makhen survived, but his death now appears to be caused by negligence.
Putar: Absolutely. The police have ruled out foul play in the death. 'This looks like a death due to falling and not because of foul play. Once the postmortem report comes we can register a case of death due to negligence against the Municipal Corporation of Delhi,' a senior police officer said.
Hari: What does the wife say?
Putar: She has taken it philosophically. She said: 'He had to live then and he did. His time had come.'
Hari: This is how people have to console themselves.
Putar: The Government should pay compensation and be held accountable for the actions of its employees.
Hari: But the MCD will not pay anything on its own, until it's directed to do so by a Court, and you know how court cases drag on for years and years. The poor wife will also be dead by then.
Putar: Didn't the Government introduce Consumer Courts some years ago? It's a low cost remedy and the courts are supposed to deliver justice speedily.
Hari: Consumer Courts have made traders and manufacturers accountable, but will the Government want to make itself accountable?
Putar: Citizen's groups have to lobby for such a Court.
Hari: What will such a Court be called?
Putar: It the Consumer Courts are about the rights of consumers, such a Court will be about the rights of the citizen. Maybe call it the Citizen's Courts.
Hari: But there may be many frivolous cases filed.
Putar: There can be a fine to be paid for filing such cases.
Hari: There is another problem.
Putar: What's that?
Hari: There is so much negligence all around that there will be such a deluge of complaints that the Government will become bankrupt.
Putar: I don't think so, but a culture of accountability will be promoted. Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Mr Makhen fell into a manhole and unless you have something like a Citizens Court, in all likelihood no one will be held accountable.
Hari: That's true. In any enquiry, MCD will blame DESU, the electricity people for not supplying street lighting there. Within MCD too one person will blame the other. The workers will blame the Supply Section that barricade material was not there. Supply will blame the people responsible for providing luminous signs warning people of the danger.
Putar: Exactly. But if there is no accountability bigger disasters are waiting to happen? Will MCD even put barricades around other manholes in the city? Tomorrow if the entire country falls into a ditch, will there be anyone who will be held accountable? And will there be any use at that stage?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.