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Madras HC: Article 21 is Applicable to Refugees as well

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LI Network

Published on: 24 August 2023 at 10:50 IST

The Madras High Court has issued a directive to the Tamil Nadu government to provide compensation of ₹5 lakh to the parents of a Sri Lankan child who tragically lost her life due to a wall collapse at the refugee camp where her family was residing.

Justice GR Swaminathan of the Madurai bench presided over the case and emphasized that the fundamental right to life, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, extends to all individuals within India, including refugees.

The court was presented with evidence that the wall collapse occurred in May 2014, subsequent to heavy rainfall in the region. However, it was established that the incident could not be classified as an act of nature, as there were clear indications that the structural integrity of the refugee camp accommodations was compromised and in need of maintenance.

Justice Swaminathan held the State government accountable for the tragic event, as it was responsible for the upkeep of the refugee camp.

The court reasoned that by accommodating the petitioner’s family and others in the camp, the government had a duty to ensure their safety and well-being.

The legal doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” was applied to the case, emphasizing that the victim played no role in causing the incident. While other families were affected, the court noted that the petitioner’s child was unfortunate in this regard.

Furthermore, the court highlighted the obligation of the State to provide reasonable and adequate accommodation facilities to refugees, along with access to clean water and basic infrastructure.

The central issue raised in the case was whether fundamental rights extended to refugee individuals.

Several legal precedents were cited, including a judgment by the Madras High Court in Neyatitus V. The Regional Passport Officer, reinforcing that the protection granted by Article 21 of the Constitution is applicable to all persons, regardless of their citizenship status.

However, the court exercised caution in disbursing the compensation amount directly to the petitioner, who was the victim’s father. Concerns were raised about the possibility of the petitioner misusing the funds for alcohol consumption.

As a result, the court directed the State to establish a fixed deposit of ₹5 lakh in the victim’s mother’s name, allowing her to withdraw the funds after a span of three years.

Justice Swaminathan stated, “I consciously refrain from directing the payment to be made to the petitioner. It is quite possible that he is a teetotaller. I would rather err on the side of caution. I am afraid that the compensation money will find its way back to the State government’s coffers via TASMAC. I, therefore, direct the government to create a fixed deposit in favour of the wife of the petitioner for a period of three years.”