Sunday, February 3, 2019

SC To Look Into Issues Regarding Safety Of Indian Railways

The Supreme Court, last week, said it will look into issues and concerns regarding safety of Indian railways.

The bench comprising Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Indira Banerjee sought views of the Union of India in the matter, while delivering a judgment in an appeal arising out of a claim made in a railway accident death case.

One Dasarath Yadav had died after his head collided with a post by the side of the railway track resulting in an accident. Though the Railway Claims Tribunal held that he was a bona fide railway passenger and that the incident was an "untoward incident" in terms of the provisions of Section 123 of the Railways Act, 1989, it was found that the deceased was victim of his own act and as such no compensation was payable.

On Appeal, the Calcutta High Court held that the claimant was entitled to compensation of Rs.8, 00,000 with interest @ 9% per annum. In terms of Section 124-A of the Act the 'Principle of Strict Liability' would arise and as such the Tribunal was not right in denying compensation to the claimants, the High Court had held.

Before the Apex court, the contention was that the grant of interest on the sum of Rs.8, 00,000 was not consistent with the law laid down in Rina Devi judgment. The bench observed that the claimant shall be entitled to the benefit ordered by the High Court irrespective of the decision as regards question of law raised in this appeal. Explaining the said judgment, the court said: 
"What this Court has laid down is that the amount of compensation payable on the date of accident with reasonable rate of interest shall first be calculated. If the amount so calculated is less than the amount prescribed as on the date of the award, the claimant would be entitled to higher of these two amounts. Therefore, if the liability had arisen before the amendment was brought in, the basic figure would be as per the Schedule as was in existence before the amendment and on such basic figure reasonable rate of interest would be calculated. If there be any difference between the amount so calculated and the amount prescribed in the Schedule as on the date of the award, the higher of two figures would be the measure of compensation. For instance, in case of a death in an accident which occurred before amendment, the basic figure would be Rs.4,00,000/-. If, after applying reasonable rate of interest, the final figure were to be less than Rs.8,00,000/-, which was brought in by way of amendment, the claimant would be entitled to Rs.8,00,000/-. If, however, the amount of original compensation with rate of interest were to exceed the sum of Rs.8,00,000/- the compensation would be in terms of figure in excess of Rs.8,00,000/-. The idea is to afford the benefit of the amendment, to the extent possible."
The apex court finally held that, the High Court was in error in awarding interest on the sum of Rs.8 lakhs, since the accident had occurred before the amendment.
During the hearing of this case, the bench had appointed Advocate Brijender Chahar as amicus curiae in this case, to assist the court in its concerns about Railway safety. The amicus also submitted summary of following four reports in this regard.

  • Anil Kakodkar High Level Safety Review Committee, 17.02.2012; 
  • Twelfth Report of 16th Lok Sabha on safety and security in Railways; 
  • Report No.14 of 2016 of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Suburban Train Services in Indian Railways; and 
  • Twenty-Third Report of Standing Committee on Railways (2013-14) Fifteenth Lok Sabha, Ministry of Railways Report on Suburban Train Services of Indian Railways, with particular emphasis on Security of Women Passengers.
While disposing the appeal, the bench said: 
"The learned Additional Solicitor General readily agreed to the suggestion that the Railways must consider the matter in right earnest and see that the concerns regarding safety are immediately addressed. On the request of the learned Additional Solicitor General, we, therefore, adjourn the matter for eight weeks only to consider the issues regarding the safety as highlighted by the learned amicus curiae."

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