Alarmed over a jaundice outbreak causing a dozen deaths in Shimla, the Himachal Pradesh High Court Thursday ordered the government to pay an interim compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the families of the victims and warned of stern action against three top officials — two Irrigation & Public Health Department (IPH) engineers and member secretary of the Pollution Control Board — for filing incorrect reports.
The court also gave its go-ahead to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to take the probe into an already registered FIR in the matter to its logical end. It asked the SIT to specifically pinpoint officers responsible/involved from 2007 for the supply of contaminated water from Ashwani Khad, a drinking water supply source right below the Malyana Sewage Treatment Plant (STP).
In a 35-page order, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan rapped the chief secretary and some top secretaries for their failure to oversee the work of officers under them who were manning the STPs and the drinking water supply scheme.
The bench asked the chief secretary and principal secretary (IPH) to provide a list of the officers manning the posts, right from chief engineer to peon since 2007, for supplying safe drinking water and managing Ashwani Khad. The court ordered that half-a-dozen top secretaries of IPH, health, urban development, education should be made party to the case along with Pollution Control Board member secretary, public relations director and all concerned DCs and SPs.
Further, the court ordered setting up of a statutory body manned by competent authority to deal with the water crisis and the town’s entire water supply system — a key suggestion put forth by amicus curie Bipin Negi.
The court named two IPH engineers — Suman Vikrant and Sunil Justa — for filing factually incorrect reports before the court relating to the jaundice outbreak and circumstances leading to shutting down of Ashwani Khad.
“They are asked to show cause as to why they should not be: (i) dealt with in terms of the mandate of Contempt of Courts Act, and (ii) prosecuted for filing false affidavits before this Court and for misleading the Court”.
While fixing March 2 as the next date of hearing, the court sought weekly reports from the state government and the SIT on the investigation. It gave the government four weeks to deposit money for the interim relief.