“Without well-maintained roads, how can there be smart cities?” – This was opined by a Bombay High Court division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Riyaz Chagla on Thursday during the hearing of a PIL. The suo moto PIL was filed after a letter written by HC judge Gautam Patel in 2013. The judges held that good roads and footpaths are a fundamental right of citizens under the ambit of Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution.
As reported in The Times of India, the division bench said, “it is the fundamental right of a citizen to have roads and footpaths in a reasonably good condition and correspondingly it is the obligation of local authorities to provide it to them. All steps should be taken to see that the citizens are not deprived of their rights.”
A citizen can demand the enforcement of a fundamental right and can also seek compensation if the authorities fail in their ‘legal obligation.’ Referring to the death of gastroenterologist Dr Deepak Amarapurkar who fell in an open utility hole in Mumbai in August 2017, the court warned the authorities and informed the citizens of the available legal recourse.
As per reports, the court said, “If a citizen suffers as a result of the failure of the state machinery to maintain roads, apart from liability under the regular law of torts, the person can take recourse to public law remedy. They can initiate action under public law to seek compensation from the authorities.”
The judges noted that, in general, the condition of roads in Maharashtra is not right and directed the state government to ensure good quality of roads while being constructed and repaired. The state government was also told to set up a centralised and comprehensive grievance redressal system. Along with a toll-free number and a website, the system will include a hassle-free complaint lodging feature and a way to intimate regular complaint status to the aggrieved citizen.
According to The Indian Express, the HC bench said, “we are aware of the government’s endeavour to make every city smart. However, no city can become a smart city unless it has roads and footpaths in a reasonably good condition. For streamlining the road traffic, the traffic police and civic authorities need to work together and fix the bad roads causing the bottlenecks. Barricades with warnings are a must if utility holes are left open.”
This is not the first time Bombay HC has noted the lack of well-maintained roads and footpaths. As reported by the The Indian Express, in May 2015, Bombay HC had already held good roads to be a fundamental right. The civic bodies and concerned authorities were asked to put in place a grievance redressal system by June 30, 2015. While granting permissions for digging, the authorities were told to ensure that a display board with name of the agency responsible, the extent of road excavation permitted and the outer limit of estimated date of completion will be put up. The court had also noted that officials in Thane and Mumbai districts use heavy monsoon rains as a regular excuse and said that the authorities need to fulfil their legal obligation and be prepared as there are always heavy rains during monsoons.
The Logical Indian Take
Lack of well-maintained roads and footpaths leads to accidents and fatalities, causes traffic jams which in turn increase air and noise pollution levels to a dangerous extent and wastes a lot of time, fuel, money and peace of mind. ‘Road Accidents in India 2016’ report, released by Road Transport and Highways Ministry, revealed that in 2016, 55 accidents and 17 deaths were reported every hour on average. 1.51 lakh people died on Indian roads in 2016 i.e. one death every 3.5 minutes.
Without efficient public transport systems, cities in India are being choked by the ever-increasing number of vehicles. Recently, The Financial Express reported that Pune has become the first urban area in the country where the number of registered vehicles (36.27 lakh) has overtaken the total population (approx 35 lakh) of the city.