Motor accident claims criteria in fire tragedy

In a significant decision, the Supreme Court has ordered use of Motor Accident Claims parameters, such as age of the victim and future earning capacity, to compute compensation to be paid to kin of 65 victims and 161 injured in the fire that engulfed visitors to the India Brand Consumer Show at Meerut in 2006.

Earlier, in a tragedy of this nature, the kin of victims and injured were provided ex-gratia payment by the state governments. The decision of the SC to apply motor accident compensation claim parameters would enhance manifolds the amounts payable to kin of deceased and injured. Application of ‘negligent pays the damage’ principle, both to the event organisers and the state government, is a novelty.

This order came from a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian on a writ petition filed by the kin of victims of the fire tragedy of April 10, 2006, the last day of the India Brand Consumer Show organized at Victoria Park, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, by Mrinal Events and Expositions. As many as 65 persons were charred to death and 161 more suffered burn injuries.

Rejecting every argument of senior advocate Shanti Bhushan to get the organisers off the hook from paying compensation beyond Rs 30 lakhs they had deposited, the bench said, “We request the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court to entrust the work of determination of compensation to a Judicial Officer in the rank of District Judge/Additional District Judge at Meerut within two weeks of the order of this Court to work exclusively on the question of determination of the compensation on day-to-day basis.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Gupta said, “The amount of compensation payable to each of the victim including the families of the deceased have not been computed and such amount is required to be computed in accordance with the principles of just compensation as in the case of accident under the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal.”

The state has already paid an ex-gratia amount of Rs 5 lakh to kin of each victim, Rs 2 lakh to those who sustained serious burn injuries and Rs 75,000 to those who escaped with minor burn injuries. The Union government had paid Rs 1 lakh to kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 to those who suffered serious burn injuries. The Rs 30 lakh deposited by the event organiser has also been disbursed.

The SC said that the disbursed amounts would be taken into consideration while computing the compensation payable to kin of each deceased and injured persons.

Rubbishing the organiser’s attempt to palm off the blame on the contractor who erected the enclosure for India Brand Consumer Show, the bench said, “The ticket proceeds were collected by the organizers. It is the responsibility of the organizers, having collected the entry fee, to ensure the safety and well-being of the visitors. The organizers have failed in that duty causing loss of life of the innocent victims who came to see the exhibition, which was purely a commercial event with an intention to earn profit by the organizers.”

“Thus, the Court Commissioner has rightly fixed the liability on the organizers to the extent of 60%, and on account of negligence in performing statutory duties by the officers of the State, the State has been burdened with 40% of the total liability. We do not find such distribution of liability suffers from any illegality which may warrant interference by this Court,” it said.

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