A victim of drink and drive

By Meghraj Adhikari

Drinking of alcohol in Bhutan is an age old culture. The police have introduced zero tolerance on Fridays with intensive patrolling on drink and driving. Despite the efforts drink and drive is a major cause of vehicular accidents. I have my own story to narrate on this.

It was 5pm on Saturday 4th March 1989. The weekly market at Thimphu had begun to open for two days. I and my wife along with family friends were walking to Sabjee bazaar for our weekly shopping. We walked in the unpaved footpath along the river side road and had almost reached the market.  

A speeding car hit my right calf from behind and drove off. I was thrown off; hit my head against a willow tree.  I fell on the ground crushing my right arm with multiple fractures and injured my ankle. 

I was unconscious and my wife was taking me to hospital. On regaining consciousness I found that I met with an accident and hospital staff were taking me to the emergency ward. There was blood oozing from my forehead,  and I injured my right arm and leg. Dr. Mothey and the team stitched, bandaged my forehead and plastered my injured arm and leg.

It was a case of hit and run. The Car registration number was not noted by anyone. Mr. Saibal Dutta my Indian friend was passing by and he stopped recognizing my wife pleading for help. He took me to the hospital. My friend’s wife went to the Police station to file an FIR. In the absence of a car registration RBP declined to register a case.

The news of accident spread. All visitors were anxious to find the suspect. Meanwhile my boss was informed who rushed to the hospital. He enquired about the vehicle identification. Everyone suspected a speeding white corona car. In a state of nervousness none noted its registration number.  My boss was in a dinner after the hospital visit and noticed a car of similar description, in the parking of his host. He told the owner that his car was involved in an accident. The car owner got offended as he knew that he was wrongly accused and they had arguments. On the other hand a Deputy Minister had assigned some work to my relative who called him to convey his inability to complete the job because of accident. The Deputy Minister immediately visited the hospital to assess the situation and reschedule the work.

The next morning these personalities were in some important place and started chatting about the accident. The car owner narrated that he was wrongfully alleged for a hit and run case. The Deputy Minister construed that footpaths of Thimphu had become unsafe. On hearing these conversations His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo enquired the details and ordered the Police Chief to apprehend the suspect. The RBP rushed to the hospital for seeking details. In the absence of vehicle identification they could not file an FIR, the previous day.  However, they initiated the investigation.

In the absence of orthopaedics, two surgeons plastered the fractured arm twice but there was no improvement despite repeated “close reductions”.  I was frustrated and requested Lyonpo Dawa Tsering , the Chairman of National Urban Development Corporation (NUDC), to send me out of the country for treatment. On his request, the Health Department referred me to Calcutta and I was operated on 11th April 1989  in Harrington Nursing Home.  The bones were joined with steel plate and 14 screws in a four hour operation. The plate was removed in a second operation after 10 months.

The bandage was removed in 72 hours. On removing the bandage it was found that the wrist had a “radial palsy” due to nerve injury.  Assuming that the wrist became permanently disabled, I became emotional and my temperature shot up. It didn’t subside despite medicines and counselling.  Later in the evening my brother-in-law, my escort, visited me with Dr. Krishna Sharma, a final year medical student from Bhutan, who gave his opinion professionally and my fever subsided instantly. I got convinced by the second opinion. My conclusion was that the surgery and medicines have to be complemented by professional counselling.

I returned from Calcutta and had to go for physiotherapy for two months in Thimphu. One day during my physiotherapy His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo entered the hall and talked to a lady patient. Meanwhile Dasho Pema Wangchen, the late Royal Secretary, talked to me and enquired about my condition. When His Majesty looked around the hall he saw me and Dasho Wangchen reported that I was the victim of “hit and run case”. His Majesty talked to me and enquired how I was feeling; the treatment cost and above all he enquired about stitches on my forehead.  I got nervous and instead of explaining I just showed my forehead.   His Majesty advised me that I should continue with physiotherapy till I recovered fully. My “radial palsy” recovered after two months of physiotherapy. The RBP had not apprehended anyone and there were reminders to intensify the investigation.

I was going for my physiotherapy as usual and the suspect who was standing in front of hospital door, came forward and remarked “you are fully recovered now”. Such a statement confirmed his guilt.  I interacted with other elderly co-patients who opined to publish an appeal letter in the media seeking public information. I sought permission from the boss to publish an appeal letter in the Kuensel. Next day I got a call from the Kuensel conveying that my letter has been changed to “notification” by my boss.  My boss confirmed the command by His Majesty to issue a notification and pay a reward of Nu. 10,000/- to the informer. This happened immediately after His Majesty met me in the hospital.

A gentlemen had witnessed the accident and had conveyed to my boss, ‘the identity of the drunk driver who committed the crime’, through a third person, on the condition of anonymity. My boss enquired whether any enmity existed between us.  We were acquainted but never met individually. A police officer, my classmate in college visited me in physiotherapy room. I requested him to apprehend the suspect but he declined as it was outside his jurisdiction. On my persuasion he agreed to intensify the investigation and finally the suspect was apprehended.

The Police completed the report and forwarded the case to the court. His friends and relatives started visiting me and my boss to settle the case out of court. The police received orders from His Majesty and spent a lot on investigation as any “hit and run” is a serious crime. Forgiving was ruled out after consulting some judges of the High Court. 

The individual was working in the Home Ministry and his officer colleague requested me for settling out of court. I declined, as the suspect assumed that he could get away and was hiding for three months.. Finally the hearing was done and verdict was out with three months non compoundable imprisonment and Nu.4000/- cash compensation.  Though there was a legal provision of three months to three years the judge gave a minimum imprisonment of three months. On conviction by a court of law a convict cannot continue in civil service. So the convict lost his job implying that hiding from the law is a lose- lose situation.

The morale of this story is that one should not drink and drive. In the event of any accident, use the common sense and surrender within a reasonable time. One can temporarily hide from the law but the long hand of law will not spare anyone.

In conclusion, His Majesty the Fourth King had given a clear order, the police were very slow in apprehending the suspect but eventually they performed their duties diligently.

His Majesty the Fourth King was compassionate about citizens, and personally ordered RBP to apprehend the suspect.  The benevolent words of His Majesty in the hospital and the announcement of reward to any informer are beyond description.

My bosses were kind and NUDC extended support to my family during this difficult situation.

An official from the employing agency of the convict, who requested me to settle “out of court”, later rose to a higher level, was vindictive and became a stumbling block in my career and other personal affairs.

I really felt sorry as another civil servant lost his job. My boss tried very hard to save his job but the rules did not permit it. If the convict had taken the victim to the hospital or surrendered within a reasonable time he would have been saved. This happened because he was drunk and may have been wrongly advised. That is where the law didn’t forgive him. 

The truth prevails and  justice was delivered even if it is late.

 (Disclaimer: The views are my own and doesn’t represent any official policies).

The writer is the former Urban Planning Specialist of the former MoWHS.

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