On October 4th, 33-year-old Vyas (name changed), an IT professional, fell and broke his right knee when his scooter bumped into a pothole. The surgery afterwards, recurring hospital bills, physiotherapy, expenses for medicines, scooter repair etc have drained him of over Rs 4,34,323 so far. And he is still bed-ridden.
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Vyas has been sending emails to one government department after the other, hoping for compensation. But there’s been no response. The reason? BBMP has never had a mechanism to compensate victims of pothole accidents despite the high number of victims.
So far, compensation has been purely at the ‘discretion’ of the Mayor. And no data is available on the number of people Mayors have compensated for pothole accidents.
This July, the High Court ordered BBMP to compensate victims of pothole accidents. But BBMP is yet to set up a mechanism for this.
Physical, psychological trauma, plus financial losses
On October 4th, Vyas was trying to navigate his scooter through a railway underbridge at Varthur road, en route from his office at Kadubeesanhalli. His wife was riding pillion.
The front wheel of the scooter bumped into the pothole that had been filled with rainwater. Both Vyas and his wife fell down. “I was driving at barely 20 km/hr since it was raining heavily. I did not expect to encounter a pothole after a hump, and lost control of the vehicle,” Vyas says.
He was admitted to Sakra World Hospital the same evening. “I had to undergo surgery with titanium plate and screws. I got discharged on 9th October,” he says. His wife too had suffered multiple injuries from the fall.
The couple, who have a three-year-old child, have endured psychological and physical trauma, in addition to financial losses.
“Since the accident, I have exhausted all my leave, including three weeks of sick leave. Since November 29th, the company has allowed me to work from home, as an exception. But my absence from office has left me out of the company’s annual appraisal cycle, which would affect my career,” Vyas adds.
Cases like Vyas’s are familiar to Bengalureans. Most days, a pothole-related accident is reported from some part of the city or the other. Be it the mother and child who sustained injuries in September due to non-maintenance of Varthur-Gunjur road, or a 22-year-old man who died while allegedly negotiating a half-closed ditch on Kammanahalli main road.
The fight for compensation
Vyas was optimistic that his financial burden may ease since the court had directed BBMP to compensate pothole accident victims. He says he has written to as many officials as possible, seeking compensation.
“Dossiers on the pothole, FIR copy, discharge summary and hospital bill – I have sent all relevant documents to officials connected with the BBMP. But despite appraising them of my circumstances and the financial mess I am into, no one has responded so far,” he says.
Compensation from Mayor’s ‘discretionary funds’
A senior BBMP official acknowledges the HC order on compensation, but says, on condition of anonymity, “The fact is, there was no dedicated funds for pothole victims, let alone a format or mechanism to apply for the same.”
Until now, the BBMP Mayor used to take a call and announce ex gratia or damages to victims on a case-to-case basis, often on being apprised of the incident by corporators, court orders, legislators or media reports.
The Mayor has a ‘discretionary fund’ through which compensation to the victim or the family is paid out, in case the injury or death was caused by BBMP’s infrastructural shortcomings. This is the same pool of funds from which ad hoc payment is made for road works completion or to meet unforeseen expenses.
However, no fixed sum is assured to victims. “The amount can vary. In case the victim was injured due to a pothole, footpath, or tree fall, ‘discretionary funds’ are used to the extent of meeting the victim’s hospitalisation costs. Other than that, there is no mechanism to claim compensation from BBMP for their financial or mental suffering,” the senior official says.
In case of deceased victims, Mayor considers the age, gender, number of dependents, and financial status of the household before arriving at the amount to be disbursed. “For instance, if the victim is a youngster or a married woman, their kin may receive more ex gratia than compared to an old man – since the latter does not contribute to the household income,” he says. Since there are no set parameters, these calculations can be quite arbitrary.
The official says no data is maintained on the specific number of pothole accident victims who have received ex gratia from the Mayor. “Be it the victim of a pothole accident, tree fall, flood or others, only ‘Relief Compensation’ or a related phrase generally appears against the recipient’s name. Specific cause or case in not mentioned,” he says.
BBMP ad on compensation
Even after HC’s July order, BBMP had largely remained mum on paying compensation to pothole accident victims. On November 12th, HC even threatened to take action against BBMP for contempt, if it failed to give compensation or publicise the scheme.
Subsequently, on 27th November, BBMP issued a newspaper advertisement that said compensation would be awarded to pothole victims.
Last Friday, BBMP advocate K N Puttegowda submitted an affidavit which stated that BBMP had complied with the order by placing these advertisements. The affidavit also stated that BBMP had filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the HC order.
Meanwhile, Vyas says he is yet to hear from the authorities. “Had it not been for the bad weather or the absence of streetlights, we would have continued to lead a normal life. For now, we continue to suffer indefinitely. Rather than me being a breadwinner, the financial burden due to my medical condition is affecting my entire family,” he says.
He is also concerned about his job security. “Everyone comes to Bengaluru to make a living, but if one has to suffer such consequences due to the infrastructure, it is scary. It can happen to anyone, and ironically the administrators have no definite mechanism for resolving the matter,” he says.
Speaking to the media, BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar said that pothole victims’ cases would be tentatively considered on a case-by-case basis, and compensation would be issued. However, he clarified that BBMP was yet to formulate guidelines for a mechanism by which affected citizens could easily claim for damages.
The senior BBMP official (quoted earlier), says that the process of formulating these guidelines has begun, but it may take at least three more months for an appropriate compensation mechanism to be in place.
Is BBMP fixing potholes?
Repeated instances of injuries and deaths due to infrastructural terror are almost regarded as ‘collateral damage’ for living in Bengaluru. After such incidents, BBMP offers to rectify the specific blackspot or to make a stretch pothole-free, but does not seem to provide a sustainable solution.
Hearing the PIL, HC had also indicated that it may hold BBMP responsible for pothole accidents or deaths. Following this, the Palike almost convinced Bengalureans that it would get its act together by filling potholes in 470 major roads measuring over 1344 km, by November 10th. As per BBMP’s own survey, there were 10,656 potholes on these roads, between October 1st and 10th. On November 10th, BBMP announced that only 742 of these potholes remained to be filled.
More recently, on November 27th, data on BBMP website showed that only 327 potholes remained to be filled on major roads. But given that many smaller roads are in poor condition, complaints continue to pour on social media.
Good morning @BBMPCOMM @BBMP_MAYOR just wanted to remind you about your promise to complete all pothole filling by Nov 10. You want more days then take it but plz fill it. Tired of telling you. Do you feel responsible towards ur duty n citizens ? pic.twitter.com/iUPj0pBWSx
— vishal heble (@vishalheble) December 2, 2019
For now, potholes continue to endanger Bengalureans’ lives. And victims like Vyas remain ignored.