The Allahabad High Court has directed the Ballia district magistrate to take necessary steps for enhancing compensation to the kin of those who died after an Indian Oil tanker caught fire in a village on the intervening night of September 27 and 28, last year. In all, 13 people had died and six persons sustained injuries.
Maintaining that the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) could not wash its hands off the accident, the court asked it to take a conscious decision in the matter. It will hear the case next on July 28.
The court’s order came on a PIL filed by Dr Keshav Singh Azad, a Ballia-based social worker. He had alleged that the compensation was inadequate and the district administration was discriminating among victims. While some families were given Rs 1 lakh, two families, where deaths had taken place, were given only Rs 50,000, Azad claimed.
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On May 19, a division bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Manoj Kumar Gupta said: “The payment of compensation in the amount of Rs 1 lakh to the heirs of the deceased is thoroughly inadequate, having regard to the need of the time. We accordingly direct the district magistrate to take necessary steps for the due and proper enhancement of compensation through the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund or any other applicable scheme…”
It added that the IOCL need not wait for another order from the court to disburse the compensation.
While going through the affidavit of the DM, filed after a stern reminder, the court noted that while Rs 1 lakh was distributed to the kin of the deceased, the widow of one Ankur Kumar Singh was paid Rs 5 lakh under Krishak Durghatana Beema Yojana. “We find no explanation whatsoever in the counter (affidavit) of the district magistrate as to why the same payment could not be made in a like sum to the heirs of all the deceased persons,” the court said.
Terming district administration’s conduct as “thoroughly unsatisfactory”, the court added: “…Instead of ensuring the disbursement of proper compensation to the heirs (of the deceased), the district magistrate in his affidavit seems to cast the blame on the deceased, since it is stated that the fire took place when a petromax light was burnt by one of the deceased persons in the vicinity of the incident.”
On the fateful night, a tanker had turned turtle near the house of one Tej Bahadur Singh in Sonaeedih village, as a result of which, inflammable fluid had leaked on to the road. Most of the inflammable material was removed from the spot. However, in the night, somebody struck a light to a petromax leading to the fire.