Though passengers ought to be careful with their belongings while on trains, Railways too is liable to protect them
In a number of complaints on theft in moving trains, the Consumer Fora has held the railways guilty of negligence, though in most cases railways tried to take refuge under Section 100 of the Railways Act, 1989. It states that “a railway administration shall not be responsible for the loss, destruction, damage, deterioration or non-delivery of any luggage unless a railway servant has booked the luggage and given a receipt therefore and in the case of luggage which is carried by the passenger in his charge, unless it is also proved that the loss, destruction, damage or deterioration was due to the negligence or misconduct on its part or on part of any of its servants” and, Section 15 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987, which bars the jurisdiction of any court or other authority to exercise any jurisdication or power in relation to matters referred in Section 13 of the Act (jurisdiction to try disputes relating to the responsibility of railway administration, as carrier, in respect of claims of compensation for loss, destruction, damage or non-delivery of animals or goods entrusted to the railways) and Section 28 that stipulates that the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987 has overriding effect over the provisions of any other law.
In Union of India and Ors. Vs. Sanjiv Disukhrai Dave and Anr., the National Commission pointed to the clear distinction between the definition of “goods” and “luggage” as defined under the Railways Act. Accordingly, “luggage” means baggage carrying personal belongings of passengers and “goods” means containers, pallets or some articles of transport used to consolidate goods and animals. Thus, it was held that the Railway Claims Tribunal had jurisdiction to try and entertain the claim for loss, etc. only of goods entrusted to railways and in the present case, since the luggage was carried by the respondents themselves, the Tribunal had no jurisdiction. The Commission also reiterated on the duties of the TTE attached to II Class Sleeper coach and said that failure to perform these duties constituted negligence. The Commission quoted the rules which clearly indicate the responsibilities of the TTE. For example, Rule 14 states that the TTE should ensure that the doors of the coach are kept latched when the train is on the move and open them up for passengers as and when required; Rule 16 states that the TTE should ensure that the end doors of vestibuled trains are kept locked between 22.00 hrs and 6.00 hrs. to prevent outsiders entering the coach, and Rule 17 states that the TTE should remain vigilant particularly during night time and ensure that unauthorised persons do not enter the coach.
In M. Kanthimathi Vs. Government of India, Ministry of Railways, gold chain was snatched from the complainant while travelling in a reserved compartment in train. It was contended that railways was not responsible under Section 100 of the Railways Act, 1989. National Commission held that failure to block entry of unauthorised persons and failure to offer assistance after the crime amounted to deficiency in service.
Recently, in Union of India Vs. Dr. Shobha Agarwal, the National Commission awarded Rs. 1,50,000 towards loss of baggage, along with interest from date of filing of complaint Rs. 50,000 as compensation for mental agony and Rs. 1,000 towards costs. The complainant was travelling by II Tier AC and a person was found snooping around causing suspicion. This was reported to the TTE but he failed to take any action. Railways relied on the provisions of Section 100 of Railways Act and Section 15 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act and claimed that the Consumer Fora had no jurisdiction to deal with the case. However, upon reading the provisions of Section 15 and thereafter, Section 13 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, the National Commission held that the case of the respondent did not fall under any of the categories mentioned and therefore the jurisdiction of the Consumer Fora could not be barred.
(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details/queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or firstname.lastname@example.org)