Nearly a month after a Mumbai family lost a beloved member, they are still grappling with the utter callousness of authorities and private players involved in the death. On June 14, Tanzila Shaikh, 35, was killed when the Uber cab she was travelling in smashed into a stationary garbage van wrongly parked on Eastern Express Highway near Bhandup.
While Tanzila's injuries were horrific, the driver, Inderjeet Singh Bhatti, surprisingly escaped unscathed. It later turned out that Bhatti should never have been allowed to drive an Uber as he had been penalised twice for speeding just two months before the accident.
As if that was not enough, right in the middle of their mourning the Shaikhs started receiving unwarranted calls from motor vehicle insurance agents and lawyers telling them to register a case with the Motor Vehicle Tribunal. They then audaciously demanded 21 per cent of the compensation amount as fees. "We were shocked to hear that they had been referred by the sub-inspector probing the case and the postmortem centre at Rajawadi Hospital," said an agitated Muzammil.
Tanzila was a BTech graduate and employed with Wipro in a managerial position. She was deputed at a client site at Mindspace Gigaplex, Airoli, while Muzammil works with Capgemini, also in Airoli. On June 14, Tanzila was headed for a meeting at Goregaon. As there was no parking there, she decided to take an Uber instead.
"I spoke to her over the phone to check if she would be returning to Airoli or going straight home. She said she would let me know in a while. Those were her last words to me. An hour later I got a call about the accident. We were to pick up our son from the day care centre and go Eid shopping. Our world had shattered," said Muzammil, close to tears. "My son still dials his mother's number hoping she will pick it up. We have not told him yet that she is no more," he said.
The nightmare for Muzammil continued at Rajawadi postmortem centre. He said, "The report said some foreign object [a piece of glass or wiper] had pierced deep into her brain resulting in immediate death. Also, both her eyes had sunk into their sockets due to the impact, which indicates that the driver was speeding."
Driver Gets Bail
There was more misery in store for the family when they learnt that the driver managed to post bail the very next day and was roaming free. "We are still shocked at how the driver managed to come out on bail the next day. How could the police not book him under stringent sections of the IPC and MV Act? Had Uber taken action against the driver in April itself where he was twice fined for rash driving on the Freeway, the accident would not have happened?" Muzammil said.
When Muzammil went through Tanzila's phone later, he discovered that Uber had debited Rs 568.10 from her Paytm account despite the journey never having been completed. "How could Uber debit the charge when the accident happened at Bhandup and the car was not plying?" Of course, after Muzammil complained to Uber, the amount was promptly refunded, he said.
Insurance Agents Start Calling
While the family was processing all this, Muzammil received a phone call from the investigating sub-inspector at Vikhroli police station, who, while offering condolences, casually mentioned a third-party insurance claim through which surviving family members are compensated. He then said he had an agent who would contact the Shaikhs.
"When the agent came to meet me, he was accompanied by an advocate and they both proceeded to tell me they would take 21% of the claim amount as fees. After that three other agents and advocates called. I was aghast to hear their demands."
"We are awaiting approval from the central government to make the vahan portal operational. When that happens, all vehicular accidents reported at local police stations will be connected to the traffic police department and even RTOs. We will be able to take prompt action against habitual traffic violators. In this particular case, we will have to wait for the local police to write to us in order for us to start the process of revoking the driver's licence," said Amitesh Kumar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic). Akhilesh Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 7), said, "We will be writing to the traffic department and RTO requesting them to take necessary action including revoking the licence of the driver. I do not know if the investigating police officer is aware about the earlier violations. If he has not considered them, we will get the same incorporated in our investigation and expedite the process of cancelling the licence."
An Uber spokesperson said, "Our hearts go out to the victim, the driver partner and their families. Upon learning about the tragic incident, we immediately removed the driver partner's access to the app. While the police have been able to swiftly conduct the investigation into the accident, we continue to stand ready to extend support to the police investigation in every way possible."
Supreme Court's View
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had come down heavily on the practice of some lawyers demanding a percentage of the claim amount awarded to clients as professional fees. SC ruled that such a practice amounts to 'misconduct' and is against public policy. The apex court even called on the government to bring about legislative changes to check such violation by lawyers.
The Driver Says
Inderjeet Singh Bhatti, 59, told mid-day over the phone, "That day, the woman [Tanzila], boarded my cab at 1.55 pm and was sitting in the back seat on the left." Singh claims as he was taking a turn at Bhandup, he felt someone hit him on his head from behind. When he turned around, he saw that the woman was on the mobile phone, and seconds later his car had crashed into a stationary garbage collecting van parked on the wrong side of the road.
Singh claims he was driving at less than 60 kmph. He said the garbage van's back portion was jutting out and smashed the windshield, pierced the front seat and hit the woman straight in the face. "I was wearing a seatbelt, so was not harmed. The public immediately pulled us out and the police arrived and took us to hospital," he said.
When asked if he was aware about the echallan issued by the Mumbai traffic department after traffic cameras installed on the Freeway caught him speeding, Singh said he did not remember any such violation. mid-day has screenshots of the violations.
He insisted, "The past three months, I have been driving a car that has an inbuilt speed governor. So, the question of my speeding above 100 kmph doesn't arise." And about his release on bail within a day, he said, "I was produced before the court the next day, and was released on bail of Rs 15,000 as per court orders." So, what next for Singh? "This is my first-ever accident in three decades of driving. I am completely shaken. I don't think I will ever drive again."
Transport Commissioner Says
A message from the transport commissioner's office said, "There is a procedure the police need to follow. They have to write to us intimating us about the accident. Also, there are certain offences under the motor vehicle act which call for immediate action such as suspension or cancellation of licence. The RTO concerned might have got the police memo. They will find out the exact violation, on the basis of which action will be initiated against the driver."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)