Public places must be made safe
Pushpa Girimaji

On the last day of July, a five-year-old boy died and his three-year old brother was critically injured when a heavy iron gate fell on them at a residential colony in Mukherjee Nagar in Delhi. For some years now, residents' associations have been building iron gates at the entrances of their colonies to prevent unauthorised entry, particularly in the night. Many of these gates are closed during the night and guarded by security personnel, and residents' associations say that they have been able to bring down the number of car thefts and even robberies following some of these measures.

But the gates meant for the safety of the residents should not become unsafe for passers-by, for the public at large, particularly children. First and foremost, the gates should be of good quality and fixed properly. In many cases, this is not done.

Gates also need to be inspected at regular intervals, repaired and painted where necessary and, most important, erected in such a way that they do not fall on anyone. At the residential colony in Mukherjee Nagar, where the accident happened, the police said the gate was in a bad shape---it was 12-feet- long and had developed rust in most places.

The welfare bodies, which put up these gates, should realise that they are also responsible for their maintenance, and if an accident is caused on account of an unsafe gate, then these associations are liable for the consequences.

In this case they will have to pay compensation to the parents who lost a child and also pay for the medical treatment of the other child, who is in hospital. From the police reports about the accident, both the children came from a poor family and lived in a slum cluster nearby. So it is all the more necessary that the welfare association concerned should take responsibility voluntarily.

Some months prior to that---in the month of March---another iron gate had crashed on two children, resulting in the death of a six-year- old . His companion escaped death but suffered serious injuries. And in this case the gate was that of a public park in Mangolpuri, and the responsibility for maintaining the park and, of course, the gate, rested with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

There were two more fatal accidents involving children in the month of July.In Bangalore's Garuda Mall, a six-year-old boy died when he fell from the fourth floor. The child had fallen through the gap between the escalator and the steel railing of the floor. The other accident involving two school kids happened in Delhi---both had fallen into a canal in

Chander Vihar in west Delhi. According to the residents of the area, they had written several letters to the authorities asking them to fence the area

near the canal and also put up a caution notice near the canal so as to prevent accidental fall and death, but the authorities had not bothered despite several such accidents.

There was another accident involving a child in July which went unreported. On a particularly hot day a mother went up to the terrace of her tiny, rented house in Gurgaon to get some fresh air. There was a cool breeze and she took her young son along. Before she could realise it, the son had gone to the edge of the terrace and had fallen down to his death. The owner of the house had built the steps leading to the terrace but had not bothered to render the terrace safe by building a wall or a grill around it.

The civic authorities have a dual responsibility when it comes to safety. First and foremost, they have to ensure that public places such as parks, hospitals, swimming pools, schools and auditoria run by them are absolutely safe, particularly for children. Second, they have to draw up safety laws and enforce them in public places run by others. Both are extremely important and dereliction of either of the duties can lead to tragic accidents.