Life at Own Risk

Dr Asangba Tzudir

The conditional partial opening of the Dimapur-Kohima Road stretch NH-29 through a notification of the Deputy Commissioner, Chumoukedima, raises some fundamental moral questions. What does it mean for the State government to let its citizens travel at one’s own risk? Does it entail that the Government is no longer in a position to take responsibility for the life of its citizens? Is it the case that the Government is trying to write off the liability of having to pay ex gratia in the event of deaths through similar accidents? 

Risks are very much a part of life, and in the evolution of uncertain times, it has become more pronounced. However, the situational context of having to sign an undertaking to travel at one’s own risk in a stretch of National Highway-29 in a way indicates that certain things more important have been set aside to such an extent where the so called ‘Natural calamity’ could have been averted. The Nagaland Pollution Control Board had made prior requests and warnings to the group company, NHIDCL of the impending danger and the need for adherence to safety norms. Now, even after the loss of lives, the blame game continues, even citing natural calamity.

Isn’t it not the case where the company, NHIDCL, be held accountable for the lives lost instead of simply leaving the case of the loss of lives and injuries as ‘unfortunate.’ Such has been the sorry state of affairs. To set matters straight and to set deterrence, the State Government should launch an inquiry into the July 4 rock slide. This will serve as a launch pad for the company in question to set matters right in order to avoid such calamities in future. Life is not a joke, and in matters where life is at stake, whatever corrective measures are left undone should be taken up on priority basis so that its citizens will not be required to sign an undertaking citing whatever they do is at their own risk. 

Terms like ‘unfortunate’, ‘inconvenience is regretted’, ‘undertaking’ to stake like at own risk, and the like, should no longer be a part of modern day parlance in governance. Safety and well-being are norms which are demanded of the government not simply as a requirement but a ‘moral minimum’. The present notification where undertaking is required cannot and should not go on forever, and therefore necessary safety measures should be put into action so that public can have a tension-free travel without having to sign any undertaking. 

Also, in times as such, the various public organizations should add to their relevance by going beyond expression of concerns and condemnations, by acting as pressure groups so that safety and well being, rights and justice within human control are ensured and delivered, and also that the guilty are not let off freely. 

On the flip, while the conditions set in the notifications in opening up for travel passage in no way guarantee any safety, the public too, should also understand the ‘situational context’ in which the travel passage was relaxed with conditions by the government. And this calls for the public to exercise due caution and not to take unnecessary risks in the face of impending danger. Time is always an important factor which needs due consideration but when life is at stake, nothing should be placed above life even if it means longer travel time. Unless in a situation of emergency, when life is at one’s risk, we should not go by convenience, for we are only putting our lives in danger if we go by convenience. 

(Dr Asangba Tzudir writes a weekly guest editorial forThe Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to [email protected])