Himachal HC orders compensation for jaundice victims

Shimla, Feb 25 (IANS) Less than two months after a jaundice outbreak in the state capital, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on Thursday pulled up top government functionaries for their apparent lapses in dealing with the water-borne disease.

Awarding an interim compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased, a division bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan directed the state to deposit the amount within four weeks.

The bench, which treated media reports regarding supply of contaminated water in this city as a public interest litigation, observed: “Water is a gift of god and it’s the duty of everyone to maintain its sanctity.”

Listing the matter for the next hearing on March 2, the judges said: “It’s unfortunate that some officials are playing with the gift of god and because of their negligence, carelessness and other ulterior motives, the water became dirty, contaminated and polluted.”

The court noted that the Ashwani Khad water treatment station, which supplies water to one-third of Shimla’s population, is highly contaminated.

Official sources told IANS that more than 1,500 cases of jaundice, including among senior government officials, have been reported in Shimla and 12 people lost their lives due to the disease.

Patients suffering from the water-borne disease were also reported from Solan town, which was located in the downstream of Ashwani Khad.

A special investigating team (SIT), constituted by the state to investigate the jaundice outbreak, informed the court that the water supply scheme at Ashwani Khad was managed by Class IV employees and senior officers never visited the site.

“It appears that the investigating agency and the state government have virtually admitted that the water from the Ashwani Khad was polluted, contaminated, dirty and a cause for jaundice outbreak,” said the judges in their 35-page order.

Getting tough against Irrigation and Public Health secretary Anuradha Thakur, the court asked why action should not be taken against her for making incorrect and contradictory statements.

“Is she trying to shield her predecessors and subordinate officers or is she trying to carve out a case for them or rather is trying to mislead the court,” the order added.

The court also asked state Pollution Control Board member-secretary Vineet Kumar why he should not be prosecuted for filing a false affidavit in addition to the contempt proceedings already initiated against him.

The chief secretary and the secretary of the urban local bodies were supposed to ascertain whether the sewage treatment plants were being maintained properly, said the bench, which reserved its order on February 23.

“It is for the SIT to investigate and determine and submit the compliance reports after every one week. It’s directed to take the investigation to its logical end by pinpointing who are the officers right from 2007 till today responsible or involved (for the lapses),” the bench added.

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