All parties successful in hiding information from media

Rinzin Wangchuk 

The civil bench of the Thimphu dzongkhag on August 11 directed the information and communications ministry (MoIC), Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), and the economic affairs ministry (MoEA) to compensate a female de-suup more than Nu 10 million (M) after an accident left her disabled for life.

The de-suup was hit by a TATA pick-up truck while in the line of duty on September 15, 2020. The accident left her permanently disabled and her legal counsel had  claimed a compensation of Nu 23.982M from five defendants- MoIC, RSTA, MoEA, the owner of the Gaki automobiles in Olakha and the owner of the pick-up truck.

The plaintiff petitioned before the court that the MoIC and RSTA are liable to pay 60 percent of the compensation, which amounts to Nu 14.389M for failing to implement road safety regulations.

The legal counsel submitted that the MoIC and RSTA are the two principal entities that enforce the provisions of the Road Safety and Transport Act 1999 and Road Safety and Transport Regulations 1999.

Section 9 (1) of the Act makes the authority accountable to the MoIC minister. “Therefore, the minister is legally accountable for the actions of the authority,” the De-suup’s legal counsel stated in his petition.

It also stated that as per Section 8(a) of the Act, the authority is mandated to develop and implement road safety strategies. The petition stated that the RSTA is mandated to inspect the roadworthiness of the commercial vehicles like the pick up truck as per Section 42 (1)(a) of the regulation. “Since the authority allowed such a vehicle that is unworthy to be driven resulted in injuring the petitioner.”

The defendant, MoIC and RSTA, was also blamed for leaving the automobile workshops like Gaki unsupervised.

The plaintiff also submitted  that the MoEA is liable for the compensation as it had failed to monitor the licence of a bar that was open after his license expired.  The validity of the licence issued to Gempo Wine and Liquor Shop, where the driver was drinking before the accident,  had expired in 2018. The ministry also failed to enforce its own dry day rule.  The incident happened on a Tuesday (Dry day).

Police had earlier charged the driver, in 2021, for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was fined Nu 4,250 and was ordered to pay compensation of Nu 360,000 to the petitioner.

The plaintiff also petitioned that both the owners of Gaki automobiles and the pick-up truck should be liable for compensation of Nu 1.199M each. This is because the workshop owner failed to adhere to the safety measures in the operation and conduct of the commercial venture.

The petition stated that the owner of the pick-up truck is accountable for not letting the workshop know about the truck’s malfunctioning brakes. The truck was being driven by the mechanic at the time of the accident for which the owner of the truck must compensate.

The compensation was calculated taking into account the salary of Nu 12,000 per month for 45 years as the De-suup was 25 years at the time of the accident.  Bhutan’s life expectancy of 70 years was also considered in calculating the amount.

The compensation includes medical expenses for her treatment, the cost of diapers for 45 years, travel expenses for treatment, compensation for loss of family life, attendant(s) monthly wage for 45 years, compensation for emotional distress, and punitive damages.

The victim was referred to a hospital in New Delhi, India. Nu 7.392M was spent on her treatment for which she requested the court to allow her to refund the agency that bore the expenses.

Meanwhile, all parties in the case refused to talk to Kuensel or share any information. The De-suup’s lawyer, the judiciary and the competent (legal) authority of three agencies – Office of the Attorney General (OAG) refused to share the public document – judgment copy with the media. “This could be because the unprecedented amount of compensation was imposed even before the enactment of the tort law,” one observer pointed out.

One editor and a reporter were after the judgment copy since Thursday but none of the agencies shared fearing that the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) might “manage them out” if they shared. Three officials suggested the document to be collected from the court as it is legally right to do.

Concerned agencies informed the Prime Minister Office (PMO) about the court’s  outcome where the government lost the case. PMO officials said that OAG has been instructed to share the judgment with the media since PMO did not get a copy.

OAG refused to share the judgment copy.