Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flying stone gives MSRDC a black eye

Human Rights Commission asks MSRDC to pay Rs 2,18,500 to Rashmi Sudheer, who lost her eye to a flying stone while riding a rickshaw on the under-construction Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road Mumbai

A government roadways corporation has been ordered to monetarily compensate a scientist who was blinded in one eye after being hit by a stone missile from a road construction site in Powai.

In her complaint to the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC), Rashmi Sudheer had pointed out that the site was left unguarded by negligent contractors, and was also without any warning boards or safety barricades.

Last month, the commission ordered the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) to pay damages to the tune of Rs 2,18,500 to the 28-year-old.

On the morning of September 30, Rashmi - a research associate with a multinational company - was travelling from her mother’s house in Marol to her workplace in Thane in an autorickshaw.

As she neared the Indian Institute of Technology gate on the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR), a loose stone launched by the wheels of a speeding truck shattered her right eye.

Doctors later informed her that the eye was permanently damaged, but she would still need urgent surgery to save the other (Mumbai Mirror had carried a report on October 6, 2008).

In the last 10 months, Rashmi has endured five operations, including one to repair a fractured eyebrow bone. Her latest surgery, last week, was a cosmetic procedure to repair scars around her eyes.

In December 2008, with the help of S S Matondkar of the NGO, Human Rights Mission, Rashmi filed a complaint with MSHRC, claiming compensation of Rs 20 lakh.

Though the commission asked the two parties to mutually settle the compensation issue, the corporation refused to do so, stating that the “damages claimed were too high”.

Construction agencies are casual about these things. After the accident, a government official was quoted in a newspaper saying that it was just an accident - Rashmi Sudheer

Since the mishap on September 30 last year, Rashmi, a research associate with an MNC, has undergone five surgeries

Rashmi justified her claim saying that - apart from surgeries that she already had - she would have to spend regularly for cosmetic procedures.

“Cosmetic surgery will cost Rs one lakh or more and I would need regular surgeries to change the artificial eye. Also, the loss of vision has affected my efficiency at work,” she told the commission.

Rashmi - who is married, and has a one-and-a-half-year-old child - also stated that she needed to be justly compensated as her company’s medical insurance did not cover cosmetic surgery costs.

Meanwhile, the MSRDC insisted that Unity Infraprojects Limited - the contractors appointed to repair the road - should also be named as a party in the complaint.

The corporation also claimed that they had taken all safety precautions, and also alleged that the stone could have fallen from trucks carrying construction material to other projects.

The Mumbai Mirror story on October 6. Since her injury in September last year, Rashmi has endured five operations, including one to repair a fractured eyebrow bone

But the commission ruled against all of MSRDC’s arguments.

“On the road where work is being executed - either the construction of a bridge or the widening of roads, etc - the executing agency has to be careful about the safety of the populace, and thus provide extra safeguards, such as diversion of traffic, etc,” commission member Subhash Lalla said in his judgement.

The commission said that MSRDC could recover the compensation from the contractor. The complainant - the commission ruled - could approach a civil court if she wanted to pursue her claim for a higher compensation.

Rashmi who has borne her loss stoically said: “The construction agencies are usually casual about these things. After the accident, a government official was quoted in the newspaper saying that ‘it was just an accident’.”

S M Shetty of Human Rights Mission said: “Accidents due to the negligence of construction companies happen all the time. By awarding compensation to Rashmi, the MSHRC has created a precedent.”

When contacted, a senior MSRDC official stated: “The copy of the order has not reached us. If there is such an order, we will honour it.”

By Manoj R Nair and Dipti Sonawala

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