We are a proud republican State. There is no place for kings to hand out summary sentences. But then, wrongs continue to be perpetrated… It becomes our duty to speedily respond,” Justice GR Swamin … Legend of Manu Needhi Cholan, Justice Krishna Iyer inspire Madras High Court

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Legend of Manu Needhi Cholan, Justice Krishna Iyer inspire Madras High Court in aiding grieving father [Read Judgment]
“We are a proud republican State. There is no place for kings to hand out summary sentences. But then, wrongs continue to be perpetrated… It becomes our duty to speedily respond,” Justice GR Swamin …
Legend of Manu Needhi Cholan, Justice Krishna Iyer inspire Madras High Court in aiding grieving father [Read Judgment]
The statue of King Samaneedhi Cholan at the Madras High Court campus
Meera Emmanuel
Published on :
04 Nov, 2020 , 9:00 am
The legend of the king Manu Needhi Cholan, known for having ordered the execution of his son to render justice to a grieving cow, was recalled recently by the Madras High Court when it intervened to aid the family of a 22-year old man who had died of electrocution from a fallen live wire (G Sendhattikalaipandian v. Inspector of Police and anr).

“We are a proud republican State. There is no place for kings to hand out summary sentences. But then, wrongs continue to be perpetrated and tragedies continue to occur. There are lakhs of people crying for justice. It becomes our duty to speedily respond,” Justice GR Swaminathan remarked.

Justice Swaminathan’s November 2 judgment commenced on the following personal note, which summarised the story behind king Cholan’s acclaimed status when it comes to justice dispensation.

“I hail from Thiruvarur. It was ruled by Manu Needhi Cholan (I refuse to rename or call him by some other name merely because “Manu” may sound politically incorrect). This King had hung a giant bell in front of his palace. Any one seeking justice could ring it and he will be heard and justice rendered. One day, it so happened that a young calf had got crushed under the wheels of the chariot on which the only son of the king, Prince Veedhi Vidangan was travelling. The mother of the calf walked to the palace gates and rang the bell. The king came out and learnt what happened. The king ordered that his son should be killed in the same way so that he could undergo the very same pain as that of the cow. The legend has been depicted in stone near the vitta vassal of the temple and it is one of my earliest memories.”
Justice GR Swaminathan (L), Madurai Bench of Madras High Court (R)
Justice GR Swaminathan (L), Madurai Bench of Madras High Court (R)
The judge proceeded to inform that on, October 29, a middle-aged villager, G Sendhattikalaipandian came before the Court, holding a petition and seeking the court’s aid.

Upon enquiry, the judge was appraised that Sendhattikalaipandian’s son, Saravanan, had died earlier that month after coming in contact with a live overhanging electrical wire.

Saravanan was everything to Sendhattikalaipandian and his wife, Ramalakshmi, the court recorded, noting further that the 22-year old had hoped to clear the civil services and become a district collector one day before his untimely demise.

Given the tragic circumstances, the court took a call to dispense with unnecessary formalities before calling on the State Police and the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) to respond in the grieving father’s plea. The Court observed,

“Sendhattikalaipandian is the bereaved father who stood before me. He had sent a petition through e-mail to the Registrar(Judicial), Madurai Bench, Madras High Court seeking justice. I did not have the heart to tell him that he should consult a lawyer and file a proper writ petition before the High Court or a suit for compensation before the civil court. I was reminded of the decision reported in (2013) 2 MLJ 302 (Arulmeri V. Superintendent of Engineer, TNEB) wherein it was authoritatively held that when the deceased was not at fault and the death had occurred due to fall of electric wire, there is no need for the dependent to go before the civil court and that relief can be granted in writ proceedings. Did not Justice VR Krishna Iyer treat letters as writ petitions?”
The official authorities responded to the court’s issuance of notice promptly, leading the judge to record his appreciation for the same.

The court was told by the counsel for TANGEDCO that the live wire in this case had been snapped on account of squirrel interference. The fact that it fell into some bushes below also meant that the feeder did not trip, keeping the wire live.

The judge ultimately found merit in this explanation and agreed that the TANGEDCO officials had not been negligent in this case. As noted in his order,

“In order to satisfy my conscience, I made a spot inspection. I am satisfied that the occurrence had taken place on account of rodent interference… If the squirrel guards had been installed, probably the incident could have been averted. If Karuvelam bushes beneath the electric lines had been cut and removed, probably the snapped line could have straightaway fallen on the ground and the feeder would have got tripped thereby disconnecting the supply of electricity. But these are “ifs” of life. On a overall consideration of the circumstances, I come to the conclusion that the tragedy is purely an Act of God and TANGEDCO cannot be fastened with any negligence as such…”

The Court further recorded that the authority had already disbursed Rs 5 lakh to the petitioner.

All the same, the judge observed that Saravanan’s family is entitled to further relief, while recalling principles of absolute liability applicable to enterprises engaged in activities that are hazardous or inherently dangerous.

Where harm is caused on account of such activities, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions, the court pointed out.

“I cannot lose sight of the fact that TANGEDCO is a public sector undertaking. It is no doubt a corporation but it is “State” within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India. It is very much amenable to writ jurisdiction. Its obligations are also correspondingly higher,”
it added.
Therefore, the court issued the following directions:

TANGEDCO is directed to pay an additional compensation amount of Rs 8.86 lakhs within twelve weeks (in addition to the Rs 5 lakh already paid).

TANGEDCO should also offer the job of Junior Assistant on compassionate grounds to the second son of Sendhattikalaipandian.

TANGEDCO must ensure that such occurrences do not occur in future. While there may not be any impregnable shield against bird hits or rodent interference, TANGEDCO can undertake a comprehensive safety audit.

On a parting note, the court observed that in Japan electricity transmission lines are laid in an insulated form beneath the ground. As such, the lines do not carry load beyond what is required.

On the other hand, the system that India has gotten accustomed to also enables the theft of electricity. As noted by the Court:

“It is only in India, the lines carry unnecessary load that enables pilferage. We are aware that whenever the political parties conduct meetings, the first thing that they do is to put a hook on a nearest electricity line to tap electricity. ‘கொக்கி பே௫தல்’ (putting a hook) is a term with which all of us are familiar…. The time has come to administer shock to the system. We look forward to the day when TANGEDCO will be a profitable enterprise and maintaining the highest safety standards.”

Read the Judgment:

G.Sendhattikalaipandian v. Inspector of Police – November 2.pdfDOWNLOAD
Madras High CourtJustice GR SwaminathanMadurai benchStrict LiabilityJustice VR Krishna IyerAbsolute LiabilityManu Needhi CholanTANGEDCO

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