The Bombay High Court took suo motu cognizance of a case involving death of two young boys in a water tank.

A Division Bench comprising Justice G.S. Patel and Justice Kamal Khata said, “These three news reports raise a question of public law. What is the price of a human life in this city? Are the so called “budgetary constraints” of the BMC an answer for a failure to provide minimal safety precaution during civic works? There will be issues regarding civic responsibility, questions of negligence and financial responsibility as well, not just for the individual officers of the BMC but also for the Corporation as a body.”

In this case, the court initiated and instituted a Suo Motu Public Interest Litigation based on three newspaper articles. The most recent of these appeared on April 3, 2024 authored by Jyoti Punwani in the Deccan Herald captioned “Life comes cheap for India’s richest Corporation”. The article referred to previous news reports of March 19 and 20 in the Hindustan Times. It was reported that two young boys aged 4 and 5 years went missing and were found dead on April 1. The bodies were discovered in a water tank in a civic garden at Wadala.

The tank did not have any proper cover or lid and news reports indicated that the police action was taken against officers of the Municipal Corporation. The police registered a kidnapping case as the two kids did not return home. As the family was searching for the boys in garden, they found that the water tank had a paper cover that was torn. When they lifted it, they found that the two had drowned in it. The Hindustan Times article reported that the Wadala Citizens Forum had complained repeatedly to the civic body about the condition of the tank as it posed a danger.

The High Court in the above regard noted, “Ms Punwani’s report in the Deccan Herald inter alia says that in response to these complaints from residents, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (“BMC”) said that there were “budgetary constraints” and there was not enough funding to provide a proper cover for the water tank. Ms Punwani wrote that the BMC has simply shifted responsibility to the person appointed to maintain the garden. Other incidents are mentioned as well.”

The Court further observed that the Railways has a policy and a framework in place for compensation and there is a dedicated tribunal for this purpose and that even the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport undertaking, in its transport division, has a policy in place for accidental injury or death. It added by saying that a Municipal Corporation could have no responsibility or liability at all if it is demonstrated that an accident or a death has been caused due to negligence on the part of the Corporation concerned.

“The Court will need the assistance of Amicus. We request learned Senior Advocate, Mr Sharan Jagtiani and learned Advocate, Mr Mayur Khandeparkar to assist the Court. They may engage an Advocate on record if so required. … The Registry will on the Original Side register a Suo Motu Public Interest Litigation captioned In Re: Article dated 3rd April 2024 by Ms Jyoti Punwani, “Life comes cheap for India’s richest Corporation” and lined Hindustan Times Newsreports”, it ordered.

The Court said that once the Public Interest Litigation is registered, it will be placed before the Chief Justice for appropriate directions and assignment.

Accordingly, the High Court issued necessary directions.

Cause Title- High Court in its own Motion In Re: Article dated 3rd April 2024 by Ms Jyoti Punwani, “Life comes cheap for India’s richest Corporation” and lined Hindustan Times Newsreports v. State of Maharashtra & Ors.

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