Tribunal vacancy derails accident claims

CHENNAI, OCT. 7. Justice delayed is justice denied. This seems to be true in the case of 500-odd families who have filed cases before the Railway Claims Tribunal here, where a judicial member has not been posted for the past two years.

Cases have been piling up at the tribunal office with little possibility of the member being posted in the near-future, say Southern Railway sources.

Under Section 124 of the Railway Act, the Railways is liable to pay compensation for the death/injury of a passenger in train accidents. It ranges from Rs. 4 lakhs to Rs. 30,000 depending on the nature of injury.

The tribunal has been set up by the Railway Ministry for speedy disposal of compensation claims by victims or by families of those who died in accidents.

Before the constitution of the tribunal, the city civil court had the jurisdiction to hear the accident cases. A majority of the cases before the tribunal would have been settled by now had the city court continued to have jurisdiction over the railway claims. Now the very purpose of forming a tribunal is lost.

The sources said about 90 per cent of 21 tribunal Benches in 18 major cities did not have judicial members. The vacancy would increase by this month-end with the superannuation of more members in some tribunals. While the Railway Board was prompt in posting a technical member — normally a retired railway official — whenever a vacancy arose, it did show the same speed in posting a judicial member, appointed by a select committee consisting of a Supreme Court judge, the Railway Board Chairman or a member and chairman of the Railway Claims Tribunal, the sources said.

There were cases where compensation had been awarded but money was not disbursed. If the claimants were minors, the compensation would be deposited in banks and they were eligible to draw the money only after they became major. But claimants who became major were not able to get the compensation, as orders had to be issued by the judicial member.

Nodal agency

Advocates who appear in the tribunal cases said the Supreme Court had suggested that all Central Government tribunals be brought under one nodal agency under the Ministry of Law and Justice.

But the Railway Claims Tribunal alone was functioning under its own Ministry, while the others were under the Law and Justice Ministry.

Bringing the railway tribunal also under the ambit of the Law Ministry would render justice to the litigant public, who, they said, had been waiting for justice for the last three years.