Tuesday, July 23, 2013

HC orders exemplery damages to child acquiring disability due to electrocution

Dear Colleagues,

In this unique case wherein a toddler was electrocuted due to negligence of Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (UHBVN) and lost his both arms and one leg with severe burn injuries, the Punjab and Haryana High Court took an unprecedented step of exercising its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution and awarded the child 'exemplary damages' -Rs 62 lakh and litigation costs in addition to all medical costs, including those on prosthetics and future medicinal advances like stem cell therapy, until he is 21.

Breaking from the confines of the Victims Compensation Scheme brought about through an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC 357A) in 2008, the Hon'ble Judge not only saved the toddler Raman and his father the vagaries of prolonged civil litigation but may have also opened doors for other similarly placed victims for whom such remedial compensation could ensure survival. This precedent may greatly help victims of rape, human traffickking, kidnapping, child abuse and acid attacks, where protracted trials are often tedious and cumbersome. The heart touching coverage by India Today below:

Asit Jolly, Friday, July 19, 2013 | 17:21 IST

The animated antics of Chhota Bheem and Doraemon never fail to delight him. And he almost stops breathing in bated anticipation every time Mahendra Singh Dhoni lunges to stump a batsman. Potato wafers, Pepsi and Maggi noodles make for his dream meal. In fact the last thing on five-and-a-half-year-old Raman Swami's mind is the fact that he is missing both arms and his left leg.

Raman (left) with sister Khushi.
November 3, 2011, was the last time Raman used his limbs, running and tripping all the way back from nursery school to his home in Haryana's Sanauli Khurd village. Like other afternoons, he quickly ate lunch before bounding up the narrow stairwell to the roof, his favourite spot in the house. Minutes later, a neighbour rushed in screaming: "Raman ko bijli ne pakkad liya (Raman has been electrocuted)! The forever-curious toddler lay burnt, bleeding and unconscious in the neighbour's house, 15 feet from the spot he last stood-thrown by an 11,000 volt power line, installed by state-owned power utility Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (UHBVN), just two feet above the roof.

On June 27, 2013, twenty months after his life-changing encounter, the Punjab & Haryana High Court stepped in as Raman's saviour. Justice Rajiv Narain Raina took the unprecedented step of exercising his extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution in awarding the child 'exemplary damages'-Rs 62 lakh and litigation costs in addition to all medical costs, including those on prosthetics and future medicinal advances like stem cell therapy, until Raman is 21.

Breaking from the confines of the Victims Compensation Scheme brought about through an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC357A) in 2008, Justice Raina not only saved Raman and his father the vagaries of prolonged civil litigation but may have also opened doors for other similarly placed victims for whom such remedial compensation could ensure survival. "The judge has created a precedent for rape victims, sufferers of acid attacks, victims of human trafficking, child abuse and kidnapping where protracted trials can be tedious and cumbersome, says Chandigarh lawyer Anil Malhotra, who advised the court as amicus curiae in the case.

After more than a month at the Burn Injuries Unit of Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital, Raman came home, definitely tired and wondering why he could not bring himself to scratch at the infernal itch on his ear lobe. "They saved his life and I cannot stop thanking them for that, but I got only half my son back, says Manoj Sharma, 42, Raman's inconsolable father who runs an autorickshaw and tractor spares shop on the Panipat Road heading out of Sanauli Khurd. "My boy wanted wings to fly, instead they took away his limbs, he says with eyes brimming over at the horrifying memory of seeing portions of his son's charred fists still smoking on the 'killer cable'.

The promise of money, which will be held in two bank accounts until Raman turns 21, has changed little in Sharma's bleak existence. The poor shopkeeper must contend with the unsettling prospect of paying back nearly Rs 15 lakh he borrowed for his son's treatment over the past 20 months. But more than the money, it bothers him that the court "failed to punish even one of those responsible for Raman's condition.

Sharma told the court that after objecting to the proximity of the 11,000 volt power line when it was first installed almost touching his roof in 2006, he made several verbal and at least one written complaint to uhbvn officials over the years. "I had a foreboding that something terrible would happen. They did nothing. And our whole world fell apart, he says.

Up in the two-room house above his father's ramshackle auto parts shop, little Raman is quite oblivious to the commotion over the high court's verdict and compensation package. A trifle shy at first, he quickly warms up to the presence of new visitors. Ten short minutes later you forget the boy has just one 'good' limb.

"He has become surprisingly self-sufficient, his mother Beena, 38, says with a conflicting mix of doting pride and apprehension about her only son's future. Raman incredulously employs his five remaining toes and a combination of muscles from his jaws, chin, torso and lower back to write, give himself a bath, switch to Doraemon on tv and even use the video app on his father's Nokia touchscreen phone to shoot movies with a steadier 'right foot' than most veteran cameramen.

"Itches are my biggest problem, he says with a sheepish smile. "But didi (sister) is always by my side. Raman uses a pen held between his toes to indicate the precise spot on his back to older sister Khushi, 9.

Can he use his foot to draw? "Sure I can, he unhesitatingly replies, proceeding immediately to sketch a face using chalk on a slate. The picture is done but Raman isn't happy: "That does not look like you, he says. "I will practise and the next time you come I shall draw you better", he smiles.

A year before he touched the wire on the roof, he broke his right arm in a fall. "When he asks, I tell him his leg and arms will grow back just like his arm healed after the fracture, says Beena. "He is already suffering and I cannot bear to tell him the truth, she says.

"Don't go close to the wire... it will hurt you, the boy cautions anyone going up to the roof. And yes, a fortnight after the path-breaking high court verdict, uhbvn's offending power line still looms over the Sharma home.

Raman says he wants to grow up to be a Dhoni or a Sehwag. Looking down at his absent limbs he quickly assures you: "Don't you worry, they will grow back. My mother said so. And my mother never lies.

And so what if his arms haven't 'grown back', the little fellow can give you a farewell jhappi (hug) like none other: Simply putting his beautiful head over your shoulder and sighing. You come away with the feeling of being held tightly in his 'arms'.

Source: India Today

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