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Tue. Dec 6th, 2022
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NEW DELHI: Terming the Morbi hanging bridge collapse in Gujarat “an enormous tragedy”, the Supreme Court on Monday suggested to the state high court to give attention to, among other things, an independent probe into the disaster, enhancement of compensation as well as fixing responsibilities of acts of omission and commission on the part of municipal and state officials.
Refusing to take up a PIL on the issue since the Gujarat HC was seized of the matter, a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli said the tragedy, which claimed 141 lives, required weekly or fortnightly monitoring, which the HC was doing.
Senior advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan told the bench that though the HC had taken suo motu cognisance of the October 30 incident, it would be appropriate for the apex court to consider larger issues like enhancement of compensation, which has been a paltry Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4 lakh, respectively, from the relief funds of the PM and the CM.
He said there was a need for an independent probe as the complicity of the Morbi municipal authorities in awarding the contract for repair and renovation of the bridge, which was only facile, the lethargy in arrest of the top officials of the firm which renovated the bridge, the criminal negligence of duty in allowing the bridge to be overcrowded.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said the HC acted with alacrity and took suo motu cognisance of the incident the very next day even when the court was in Diwali vacation and is looking into all aspects of the tragedy. “It would be improper for the SC to take up the PILs at this stage. The PIL petitioners could approach the HC and air their grievances,” he suggested.
The bench agreed not to take up the PILs but summarised the submissions of Shankaranarayanan and advocate petitioner Vishal Tiwari in its order and said, “The high court would bring to bear its time and attention to all aspects outlined in the order as well as other relevant aspects highlighted in the PILs.” It allowed the PIL petitioners to either file writ petitions in the HC or intervene in the pending suo motu proceedings.
Shankaranarayanan, appearing for a petitioner who lost his brother and sister-in-law in the bridge collapse tragedy, told the SC that a sportsperson winning a medal is awarded between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore. “There has to be some uniformity in granting dignified compensation to the kin of those who perish in such tragedies,” he said.
The bench said, “It is an enormous tragedy. This will require weekly or fortnightly monitoring, which the HC is doing. It will require the court to look into the nature of investigations being carried out, the lapses in renovation and those who are responsible for it, lapses in award of contract, role of municipal authorities and the enhancement of compensation. We would have taken up the PILs but the HC is already dealing with this issue. It is a local issue which could be better monitored by the HC. But, we will flag the issues for the HC.”

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