In a significant order, the Supreme Court, while holding the Railways liable to pay compensation for delays and late arrivals of trains, has asked the North Western Railway to pay Rs30,000 to an aggrieved passenger. In its order, the apex court stated, "These are the days of competition and accountability. If public transportation has to survive and compete with private players, they have to improve the system and their working culture. Citizen or passenger cannot be at the mercy of the authorities or administration."
The bench of justice MR Shah and justice Aniruddha Bose observed that the Railways failed to submit any evidence explaining the train's delay and/ or late arrival at Jammu. "...unless and until the evidence is laid explaining the delay and it is established and proved that delay occurred which was beyond their control and/or even that there was some justification for delay, the Railway is liable to pay compensation for the delay and late arrival of trains," it says.
The apex court was hearing a case filed by the North Western Railway challenging orders passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at Rajasthan and District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum at Alwar.
All these consumer commissions had asked the Railways to pay the complainant Sanjay Shukla, Rs30,000, including Rs15,000 as taxi expenses, Rs10,000 towards booking expenses and Rs5,000 towards the mental agony and litigation expenses.
Mr Shukla had booked four tickets for his family, including himself from the North Western Railway in the Ajmer Jammu Express Train No12413 for the journey from Kishangarh to Jammu Tawi on 10 June 2016. Further, he also booked return tickets by the same train for 17 June 2016.
After starting from Ajmer, the train had to reach Jammu Tawi at 8:10am on 11 June 2016. The Shukla family was expected to take a flight at 12:00 noon from Jammu to Srinagar in SpiceJet, which would land at Srinagar at 12:15pm.
However, Ajmer Jammu Express did not reach in time on 11 June 2016. It was delayed by four hours and reached Jammu at 12:00 noon. Since the Jammu Airport was far from the Jammu railway station and the Shukla family had to go to the airport at least two hours before the flight's departure, they could not go in time and missed the flight. After that, Mr Shukla booked a private taxi and reached Srinagar.
Once back home, he filed a complaint before the Alwar district consumer forum and claimed loss of Rs9,000 as airfare, Rs15,000 towards taxi hire charges for going from Jammu to Srinagar, and Rs10,000 on account of booking of a boat in Dal Lake.
Observing that there was a deficiency in service because of which Mr Shukla suffered, the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum at Alwar, on 14 September 2017, directed the Railways to pay Rs25,000 as compensation, Rs5,000 each towards mental agony and litigation charges within one month.
The order passed by the district forum was confirmed by the state commission in an appeal and thereafter by the NCDRC.
Aggrieved by the order, Northern Western Railway filed a petition in the Supreme Court. During the hearing, additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Railways, submitted that late running of train could not be said to be a deficiency in service on the part of the railways.
Given Rule 114 and Rule 115 of the Indian Railway Conference Association Coaching Tariff No. 26 Part-I (Volume-I), there should not be any liability of the railways to pay compensation for late running of train, the ASG submitted.
She also submitted that there might be several reasons for the delay and late running of the train.
However, the bench of justice Shah and justice Bose opined that the facts and circumstances of the case, and the orders awarding compensation to the complainant do not warrant any interference by the apex court.
"...in the absence of any evidence led to explain the delay, the district forum, the state commission and the National Commission have rightly observed and held that there was a deficiency in service and therefore the railway is liable to pay the compensation to the passenger – complainant for the loss suffered and for the agony suffered," the SC says.
Here is the copy of the judgement passed by the SC...