North Eastern Railway Asked To Pay Rs2.76 Lakh Compensation for Theft in Reserved Coach
Moneylife Digital Team 19 June 2024
While upholding an order passed by the Maharajganj district consumer disputes redressal commission, the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) directed North Eastern Railway to pay Rs2.67 lakh to a passenger for theft of his valuables while travelling in a reserved coach of a train. As noted by NCDRC in its order, the complainant was the district judge when the complaint was filed in the district forum, who later became president of the Uttar Pradesh state consumer disputes redressal commission.
 
While setting aside the order passed by the state commission, the NCDRC bench of Dr Inder Jit Singh (presiding member) said, "The state commission, while dismissing the appeal of the Railways, remanded the matter back to the district consumer forum to decide on the rate of interest to be paid to the complainant. This directive was made despite the absence of any appeal filed by the complainants for the payment of interest on the compensation amount. On careful consideration of the orders of the state commission and contentions of parties on this aspect, we see merit in these contentions of the Railways and accept the same."
 
Virender Singh, the district judge, bought reserved tickets from North Eastern Railway to travel to Jammu Tavi. However, while travelling on the train, he found unauthorised individuals entering the coach. While the Singh family secured their luggage, the next morning, they discovered thefts. They reported the incident to the government railway police (GRP) in Saharanpur and later filed a first information report (FIR) at Bareilly junction. Alleging negligence of railway personnel leading to the theft and causing significant financial and emotional distress, Mr Singh filed a complaint seeking compensation for the loss of goods totalling at least Rs3 lakh. 
 
Partly allowing the complaint, on 24 July 2007, the district forum directed North Eastern Railway to pay Rs2.67 lakh as compensation to Mr Singh.
 
Aggrieved by the district forum's order, the Railways filed an appeal before the state commission. While dismissing the appeal, the state commission remanded the matter to the district forum to decide on the interest component.
 
The Railways then filed a revision petition before NCDRC. It contended that the initial complaint was filed before the Maharajganj district forum, even though not part of the cause of action that arose in that jurisdiction. "The complainant filed the complaint in Maharajganj because he was the district judge of that district at the time. When the appeal against the district forum's order was filed before the state commission in Uttar Pradesh, he had become the president of the state commission. This raises concerns about bias and prejudice in both forums' orders."
 
The counsel for Mr Singh argued that Section 11(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act does not require the cause of action to occur within the jurisdiction of the district forum where the complaint is filed. "Section 11(2)(a) does not explicitly mandate that the cause of action must occur within the jurisdiction of the district forum. This requirement is specifically outlined under Section 11(2)(c) as a separate category. Thus, reading such a requirement into Section 11(2)(a) would be misconceived."
 
As expected, both sides submitted several judgements given by courts, including the Supreme Court, to support their arguments.
 
After reviewing the records, grounds, and issues raised by the Railways and cases cited by counsels, NCDRC says it agrees with the observation made by the state commission in its order. "It is evident that under the prevailing circumstances, the Railways is the sole entity involved in this matter. It is an admitted fact that the Railways conducts business within the jurisdiction of Maharajganj district, where it operates various stations. Therefore, the argument asserting that the Maharajganj district forum lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate upon this complaint is untenable."
 
"According to the provisions outlined in the relevant Act, the requirement for mutual consent or agreement between parties regarding the selection of the district forum arises only in situations where multiple parties reside in different locations. Since the Railways is the solitary party against whom the complaint has been filed and conducts its business operations also at Maharajganj district, the jurisdiction of the district forum situated there is established under Section 11(2)(a). Consequently, the complaint is deemed maintainable before the concerned forum," the bench of Dr Singh says.
 
Commenting on the allegation of bias by the fora below, given the status of the complainant Mr Singh, NCDRC stated it does not think that either the district forum, which finally decided the complaint or the bench of state commission, which finally decided the appeal, has given their verdicts on any considerations other than merits of the case and the apprehensions of the Railways are ill-founded.  
 
It says, "Situations may arise when persons in some positions themselves have a grievance and may have to take recourse to legal process. Hence, in such cases, the onus to prove with cogent evidence that the decision of the district forum or state commission in the present case was biased, prejudiced and influenced by the position of Mr Singh, the complainant, is on the Railways. Pleadings alone would not suffice. In the present case, there is no evidence which will lead us to believe that the decision of district forum and/or state commission was influenced by the position of Mr Singh in the present case."
 
While upholding the order passed by the Maharajganj district forum, NCDRC directed North Eastern Railway to pay Rs2.67 lakh to Mr Singh within 45 days, failing which it will carry an interest of 9% per annum. 
 
(Revision Petition No929 of 2015 Date: 5 June 2024)
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