The Kerala High Court questioned the NHAI and the Disaster Management Authorities for their delay when a man died on the National Highway near Athani, Angamaly, after stepping in a pothole.

The Kerala High Court criticized the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) on Monday for neglecting to maintain its roadways, which resulted in the death of a pedestrian who stepped into a pothole. [CP Ajithkumar & Anr. vs. State of Kerala & Ors.]

Justice Devan Ramachandran emphasized the importance of repairing all roads as soon as possible before another such tragedy occurs.

“We cannot wait for another major accident; nor can we allow Kerala’s roadways to become killing grounds – whether under the NHAI, PWD, or Local Self Government Institutions,” the Court stated in its decision.

The court also highlighted the fact that such incidents are often neglected, with no one taking them seriously until they or someone they know becomes a victim.

The enormity of the situation in Kerala is now clear to everybody. We do not respond until we ourselves the victim or someone we know are in such a circumstance. Accidents usually seem to happen to others and not to us. But, as any rational person would conclude, this is a fiction

To avoid further tragic incidents, the Court directed the District Collectors, in their capacity as the heads of the District Disaster Management Authorities, to issue orders regarding any road where potholes are discovered and to take any necessary action against the jurisdictional Engineer, contractors, or any other person who may be responsible.

The Court made these remarks while hearing one of its longest-pending writ petitions, which was initially filed in 2008 and sought directives from the relevant agencies to ensure the maintenance of the roads they build.

In a prior decision, the Court, seemingly in vain, assigned primary duty to the responsible engineers/staff of the different departments/local self-government institutions to ensure that repair work is done properly and that future repair work is detected and completed without delay.

Despite the fact that the matter was not scheduled for hearing this week, the Court picked it up on an emergency basis when amicus curiae lawyer Vinod Bhat told the court about one individual’s death as a result of the status of the NH roads.

Despite the Court’s directives, the roads gradually deteriorate after initial and temporary rehabilitation, according to Justice Ramachandran.

Standing counsel for the NHAI, advocate Bidhan Chandra, acknowledged that there were still some issues and that the stretch of road where the accident occurred is part of the “Build-Operate-Transfer” agreement with the Concessionaire, and that they are responsible for its upkeep, maintenance, and restoration.

He stated that, while he does not know what exactly went wrong, efforts have already been made to fix every section of the National Highway across the State to guarantee that such incidents do not reoccur.

Senior Government Pleader KV Manoj Kumar stated that efforts have already been taken to initiate an investigation into the accident and that a requisite criminal probe is ongoing..

He went on to say that the NHAI’s concessionaire for that stretch had been named as an accused and that they would be dealt with according to the law.

He stated that even District Collectors cannot be passive observers and respond exclusively when an accident occurs, since they are entitled under the Disaster Management Intervene to act before any catastrophes, including man-made ones, occur.

I’m not sure what the point of an order made under the Disaster Management Act after an accident is. It is clearly the responsibility of the Disaster Management Authority of each District to act proactively to ensure that similar incidents do not occur, whether on National Highways, PWD Roads, or any other route under the supervision of the different Local Self Government Institutions,” the order remarked.

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