The only precedence of a District Judge’s court giving a compensation verdict was in the Mishuk-Munir accident case, where the court ordered Taka 4 crore 60 lakh to be paid to the family of Tareq Masud.
They both lost their left legs to bus wheels in a city notorious for chaotic roads. Now their world is falling apart as they found themselves plunged into a bleak future.
Russell Sarkar and Krishna Roy are coping with the 'new normal' they are thrown into. Left with limping movements, they are embracing a fast-moving world where outpacing one another is a tool for survival.
A week ago when I entered the 10x10ft room where Russell Sarkar was staying, I found the 23-year old chauffeur reclining idly in an untidy bed with his back resting on the wall. A pair of crutches were protruding from behind the bed-stand. Barely lit by a small window, overlooking a marshy bush full of buzzing mosquitos, the room had a wooden table as the lone furniture.
The brick-and-tin rented house in Uttarakhand, a suburb for low-income people, belongs to Russell's elder brother. Russell has been staying in this house for a couple of days since his own one-room rented house in Notun Bazar had been empty for a while due to his wife's visit to their ancestral home in Gaibandha. Unable to move on his own, Russell has shifted to Uttarakhand for a brief stay.
"I have lost my driver's job the day I had my leg crushed under the wheels," said Russell. "Now I can't get back to the same profession I was in for seven years."
Fighting a long and arduous legal battle for compensation, Russell is becoming exhausted both emotionally and financially.
Hell broke loose in Russell's life one and a half years ago on 28 April 2018, when the driver of a long-route bus ran the juggernaut over him, apparently in a deliberate rage following a heated argument. It was at the mouth of Hanif Flyover, at Jatrabari. Russell's left leg was severed from the knee on the spot. Bleeding profusely he was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Having a bandage there he was admitted to Apollo Hospital on the same day where doctors tried in vain to reattach the severed leg.
The incident left Russell only one leg to stand on. He was one of the 8,715 ill-fated people who got injured in road accidents the same year, according to estimates of Accident Research Institute at Buet. Most of the victims got permanently damaged limbs of varied severity.
"The driver deliberately tried to run the bus over me. I was lucky that my life was narrowly saved," Russell said with a tired voice. He himself was a driver working for a rent-a-car company.
The bus belonged to Greenline Poribahan, a mighty transport company that has a huge convoy of luxury buses running between cities. Russell filed an attempt to murder case with Jatrabari Thana.
A month later, a writ petition seeking one crore taka compensation from the bus company was filed with a High Court bench, which on March 12, 2019, ordered to pay the victim Taka 50 lakh and bear the medical expenses. Following a long dilly-dally and displeasure of the court, the company paid Taka 10 lakh in two instalments.
The company has stopped payment since then. Challenging the compensation amount, they have filed an appeal at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, which has stayed the High Court order.
"I had to pay Taka 14 lakh for the medical bills at Apollo Hospital," said Russell. "The power company that I was assigned to had paid the bills as loans. Now I have to pay them back, but how can I?"
Russell used to earn Taka 21,000 as salary before the accident. After the mishap, his wife had to take a job of security guard for a security company, which she soon had to leave as she attended her ailing husband when the latter underwent a second operation on his right leg.
Now both of them out of job for months, the family is drifting in uncertainty.
"I need a job, but what can I do? Our savings had dried up over treatment costs. If I had the compensation paid, I could start a small business to sustain the family," said Russell in utter desperation.
When contacted, Monzil Morshed, a senior lawyer of Supreme Court, explained that the Motor Vehicle Act unambiguously rests the onus of determining the compensation amount to a District Judge in whose court the compensation petition has to be filed within six months of the accident. However, there have been several direct compensation petitions filed with the High Court benches, who have already handed down a number of compensation orders in recent times.
The only precedence of a District Judge's court giving a compensation verdict was in the Mishuk-Munir accident case, where the court ordered Taka 4 crore 60 lakh to be paid to the family of Tareq Masud.
"This should have paved the way for a guidance for determining the compensation amounts. But consequent cases didn't follow suit," said Advocate Morshed, who is considered a champion of public litigation cases.
Compared to Russell Sarkar the fate of Krishna Roy would seem more harrowing.
On midday in late August, Krishna Roy, the 56-year old Assistant Director of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), was standing on a pavement at Banglamotor Crossing, just a stone's throw from her office building, when a speeding bus losing control ploughed into the footpath. The wheels crushed her left leg which had to be amputated a day later.
Spending 48 days in the hospital she had to undergo a series of dreadful nightmarish operations she doesn't want to remember. When she left the hospital a week ago she had to come to terms with a new reality.
"No one can imagine the trauma of the discovery that he or she cannot walk on their own anymore," Krinshna Roy told me, when I contacted her over phone.
She is currently staying at her mother's home at Chasara, Narayanganj. Released from hospital she didn't go back to their rented house in Maniknagar, Dhaka. Instead, she moved to Narayanganj, where she thought she would get more care from her sisters.
"Before the accident, I used to be an energetic woman, running to and fro to help everyone," said Krishna Roy. "I used to be a very independent soul, managing everything on my own. Now I find myself captive in a bed. I can't even go to the bathroom without the help of others. This is pathetic."
Krishna Roy's family has been disoriented since the tragedy.
The bus that crushed her leg belonged to Trust Poribahan.
"The day the accident happened, one official from the company came to the hospital and offered to settle the matter with us with a Taka 2 lakh compensation," said Kaushik Choudhury, Krishna Roy's son when I met him in the city.
The family declined.
"How can a leg be compensated? Can they return my mother the normal life she used to have? Can they erase the trauma she will have to bear for the rest of her life?" I heard Kaushik say with an anger mixed with helplessness.
"We want justice," said Radhashyam Choudhury, the husband, a retired college teacher. He has served a legal notice to the transport company, asking for Taka 1 crore compensation, to which the company didn't reply. Radhashyam is now preparing to file a lawsuit.
Krishna Roy is the only earning member in the family of four. Her daughter Aishawarya Choudhury is a sophomore at Jagannath University. Kaushik Choudhury is taking a job training at a buying house.
The fate of Krishna Roy's family hinges on the prospect of her ability to move with a certain amount of ease that will allow her to return to her office.
"This depends on my having a prosthetic or artificial leg. It takes Taka 4 to 12 lakh to have such an artificial leg," said Krishna Roy.
Both Russell and Krishna Roy are waiting for the money they need that will let them stand on the other leg they have lost. And they are also waiting for justice they know might take eternity to have.