The Delhi High Court, vide order dated 01.06.2018, has suggested the forming of a ‘litigation policy’ by the Railways to address tortuous claims of compensation filed against it. In the Court’s view, the whole purpose of granting compensation to the victim is defeated if the amount does not become available immediately. Due to lengthy court processes and transferring of a case from one court to another, justice is inevitably delayed. Here we revisit the case that put the wheels in motion.
Victim Tilak Raj Singh, was travelling from Meerut to Ludhiana when an unfortunate incident occurred on the way at the Muzaffarnagar station, on 20 October 1987. The plaintiff suffered injuries but no first aid was administered. Instead he was sent to the civil hospital in Muzaffarnagar on a rickshaw. Due to loss of blood and inadequate facilities there, he developed an infection and was shifted to another hospital. The infection persisted, though, and finally his leg had to be amputated at a nursing home in Meerut. The plaintiff approached the District Court at Meerut on 3 September 1990 seeking damages/compensation. However, his suit was returned on 14 January 2002, after 12 years, for want of jurisdiction by the Meerut District Court. Thereafter he approached the Railways Claims Tribunal (RCT), but the RCT also dismissed his petition on the grounds that the incident had taken place after the enactment of the Railways Act, 1989, and therefore the case did not fall within the purview of RCT – instead, the same had to be tried by a civil court of competent jurisdiction.
The suit was then shuttled back to the District Judge, Meerut, who declined to accept the case saying that the RCT was not competent to transfer the case to it. Frustrated with the same, the victim filed a suit before the Delhi High Court on 1 October 2008. On 20 September 2010, a single judge rejected his case stating that the suit was barred by limitation. Thereafter, the victim challenged this in appeal before the Division Bench of the High Court of Delhi and they held that the period during which the suit remained pending before the Civil Judge, Meerut, and RCT should be excluded. The suit then proceeded to trial.
In 2016, due to the increase in the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court, the suit was transferred to the District and Sessions Judge, Patiala House Court, where the victim was finally decreed a sum of Rs 6.6 lakh. This was challenged by the Centre before the Delhi High Court.
Findings of the Court
After perusing the documents on record, the Court said that there was no doubt that the Railways were liable for breach of duty for not providing the standard of care required. The immediate first aid was not provided to the victim and it led to loss of blood and an injury that was life-threatening, as was clear from the report of the doctor who saw the victim at the Muzzafarnagar District Hospital. Concluding, the Court observed that the victim was entangled for want of jurisdiction both before the Civil Judge, Meerut, and the RCT. An organisation such as the Railways which is located across the length and breadth of the country should not delay cases of compensation in this manner. The whole purpose of granting compensation is defeated if the amount does not become available to the victim immediately.
The Court observed that as the incident took place prior to the enactment of the Railways Act, and the RCT had already rejected the petition of the victim for compensation, the determination of damages/compensation would be governed by the general law of torts and damages and not by the Railways Act.
While concluding, the Court observed that the victim was entangled for want of jurisdiction both before the Civil Judge, Meerut, and the RCT. An organisation such as the Railways which is located across the length and breadth of the country should not delay cases of compensation in this manner. The whole purpose of granting compensation is defeated if the amount does not become available to the victim immediately.
The Court further analysed the case and observing that the victim had been deprived of any compensation for over 30 years, it enhanced the compensation amount to Rs 9 lakh along with simple interest @ 8% for the entire period from filing of the suit before the District Judge, Meerut, till date of decree.
Consumer Voice’s advice to consumers
Train-related accidents may happen due to lack of caution and sometimes also due to negligence. Passengers should know about their rights and where to claim for compensation,etc., to avoid delays. Had the victim in the above case taken the claim to competent jurisdiction, there would not have been undue delays in seeking and getting compensation.
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