HC pulls up BBMP for not issuing Death Certificate of excavator operator washed away in 2017 heavy rains

The High Court of Karnataka has pulled up the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for not issuing the death certificate of an excavator operator who was washed away during heavy rains in 2017, and ordered the municipal corporation to hand over the document within 30 days to the kin of the victim.

The victim’s body was never found, and though the BBMP paid compensation to his wife, it refused to issue a death certificate, stating that the procedure did not permit it without a doctor certifying the cause of death.

Calling the BBMP’s act of sticking to procedure illogical, the HC said that when the body is not available, the question of the respondent insisting on a certificate in terms of Form 4A would be completely illogical, and the same can never be satisfied. Insistence on the certificate knowing fully well that it can never be satisfied has caused grave injustice to the petitioner, the court said.

The bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj was hearing a petition filed by Saraswathi S P, whose husband Shanthakumar S was 27 when he was washed away in the heavy rain while working in a storm water drain on May 20, 2017.

The BBMP paid her a compensation of Rs 10 lakh. After investigating the incident, the Mahalakshmipuram police issued an endorsement that the body of Shanthakumar was not found.

The BBMP issues death certificates either in Form 4 or 4A under the Karnataka Registration of Births and Deaths Rules. Form 4 is for institutional deaths in hospitals.

For deaths outside hospitals, a doctor has to certify the cause of death and other reasons under Form 4A.

BBMP contended that since the body has not been found if the husband were to return alive, the death certificate would be false. Since no such certificate has been produced by the petitioner, the respondent was unable to issue a certificate.

The HC in its recent judgement said that this was “a baseless contention which is required to be rejected. It only appears that the corporation is clutching at straws to try and justify its inaction. If at all the husband of the petitioner were to return alive, the respondent can always cancel the death certificate. Merely because there is such an apprehension, a living person cannot be deprived of a benefit of a death certificate of a person who is dead.”

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The HC also blamed the BBMP for the delay in issuing the certificate. “The husband of the petitioner having expired in the year 2017, the petitioner is deprived of a death certificate for the last 6 years. The issuance of both birth and death certificate has civil consequences. 

Without such a death certificate, the petitioner cannot take up activities which require the production of a death certificate,” the HC said.

The HC said the BBMP itself could have found a way instead of insisting on procedure.

“It could always have been available for the authorities to consider the death report and issue the death certificate taking into account the peculiar circumstances where the body has been washed away in the storm water drain. The authorities cannot act in a pedantic manner giving high preference to procedure when substantial injustice could be caused by doing so. Procedure has been often said to be only a handmaiden of justice, and as such all procedures are to yield to the greater cause of justice and not cause injustice,” the HC said.

The BBMP was ordered to issue the death certificate to the petitioner within 30 days.

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