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Railways get a wake-up call
Rosy Kumar |
September 04, 2004
Seat reservation ensures a hassle-free railway journey, especially when it is a long-distance one. At least, that's what Deobrath Chattopadhyay thought.
On the occasion of his daughter's marriage, he booked 15 confirmed seats for the bridegroom's party for their travel on November 22, 1992 from Patna to Delhi in Shramjivi Express. He was given reservation slips.
But when the train entered Patna station at 11 am on the aforesaid date, all the reserved seats were occupied by a group of people traveling to Delhi to participate in a rally.
The marriage party had to travel all the way to Delhi sitting on the luggage in the compartments. Their requests to the Railway staff at Patna station and to the conductors to have the seats vacated fell on deaf ears.
Chattopadhyay filed a complaint before the Bihar State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, claiming damages of Rs 150,000 from the Railway administration.
The state commission, while holding the railways responsible for the inconvenience meted out to the confirmed passengers, thought fit to award only Rs 10,000 as compensation to the complainant. Aggrieved, the Eastern Railways filed an appeal before the National Commission.
Dismissing the appeal, the National Commission observed that "the appellant has been let off lightly by the state commission. There has been gross deficiency in service that in spite of reserved tickets, the passengers had to travel on their own luggage and unauthorised persons were enjoying the seats. The Railway administration should have thrown out all the unauthorised persons and could have filed criminal prosecution against them as well."
Not providing confirmed seats to passengers is a common feature and the Railways fail to do anything, stating that forcing the unauthorised persons to vacate seats will become a law and order matter, which is not their concern. It appears that such pleas will not help the Railways any more.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India was concerned with a similar situation, in an appeal filed by Sumiti Devi M Dhanwatay against the Union of India.
In this case, the appellant travelled by first-class AC berth from Nagpur to Mumbai by Howrah-Bombay Mail. She was carrying her luggage, which included gold, silver and diamond jewellery, and other valuables valued at Rs 111,756.
While she was travelling, she was assaulted by some unauthorized passengers and her jewellery and other valuables were taken forcibly. This incident occurred on December 4, 1991.
Hundreds of persons entered the compartment and assaulted the passengers, including the appellant. The said crowd was so violent that they broke the doors, window bars, glass panels, seating berths and toilets.
This apart, they committed many other illegal acts of assaulting the bona fide passengers. They molested the women and even raped the young girl passengers. The appellant pulled the alarm chain three times, as a result of which the train stopped at Igatpuri, where she alighted.
On reaching Mumbai, Dhanwatay lodged a complaint with the police about the incident and also filed a case before the Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, claiming compensation of Rs 932,256.
The commission awarded a compensation of Rs 141,756. The Railways filed an appeal before the National Commission, which set aside the order of the State Commission, leading Dhanwatay to file an appeal before the Supreme Court.
In its judgement dated April 6, 2004, the Supreme Court has held that the National Commission's order was erroneous and held the Railway Administration liable to make good the loss to the passengers in such eventualities.
Relying on one of its earlier judgements, the apex court observed that the case smacks of breach of common law duty of reasonable care. It is not a case where omission on the part of the Railway officials can be said to be wholly unforeseen or beyond their control.
It was noticed by the court that the Railways were well aware of the impending contingency, because this type of rally was an annual feature on Ambedkar Day. The Railway administration, in spite of their prior knowledge, had not made any effort or devised measures to curb lawlessness.The above landmark judgement by the Supreme Court should help ensure that the Railway administration does not take the plight of confirmed train passengers lightly. They must ensure the promised comfortable journey, and in the event of situations of lawlessness, they should take the help of the police.