Can Railways Be Taken to Consumer Forum?
‘Do not eat anything offered by a stranger’… ‘Passengers are responsible for their luggage’… Many such messages are printed across railway platforms as well as within the train. While at the first glance they seem to be focused warnings to keep passengers alert about miscreants and thieves around, a good second thought will make one wonder if the Railway authorities are absolving themselves of a fundamental responsibility – the safety of passengers and their belongings. Considering one pays for the travelling in the train – regardless of class, train type, or passenger profile – the passenger becomes a consumer of the services provided by the Railways. So, shouldn’t the latter be held liable under Consumer Protection Act in case of loss of luggage, discomfort during the journey, or loss of life due to faults in trains or negligence of drivers?
This question has been raised several times at various consumer forums and more often than not decided in favour of the passenger – or the consumer – of the Railways. The arguments given by Dr Prem Lata, Consumer Awakening
Former Member, CDRF-Delhi the Railways in these forums have been exhaustive and challenging; at times, the authority of Railway Claims Tribunal as well as the rules of Indian Railway Conference Association (IRCA) have come in direct conflict with the clauses of Consumer Protection Act.
Read on to know how consumers, when right, can win the day against one of the largest railway networks in the world.
Among other things, in various cases consumer forums have had to answer some specific, core questions. While they have been explained and answered in detail in a few cases, in some the bench have simply presented the reference of cases wherein these queries are addressed. Without getting too deep into details, consumers may acquaint themselves with the arguments which will help in strengthening their case against the Railways should they ever get entangled in such a situation.
a) Do such matters come within the jurisdiction of consumer forums when the Railway Claims Tribunal is there to function in matters involving the Railways?
b) According to Rule 506.2 of Indian Railway Conference Association (IRCA) No. 24 and No. 216, the passenger is to take care of his own luggage and articles which are in his possession. It is also stated that under Rule 1301 (I) (IV) of IPCA No. 24, the passenger is supposed to declare before the starting station and get any valuable articles insured by paying the necessary charges to the railway administration for taking extra precautions.
So, can passengers ask for damages at consumer forums against loss of their belongings?
Both the above issues were clearly addressed in the matter of Union of India (UoI) and others versus Sanjiv Dilsukhrai Dave and others in October 2002. The bench comprising JD Wadhwa, R Rao and B Taimni had to address the following issues:
i) Whether the claim of the respondents under Consumer Protection Act was barred because of Sections 13 and 15 of Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987
ii) Whether there was negligence on the part of the Railways administration in providing measures whereby removal of luggage by an intruder became possible
With regard to the first issue, the bench relied on the judgement made in the case of Deputy Chief Commercial Manager, Eastern Railways, versus Dr KK Sharma and others. It was held that existence of remedy provided by Sections 13 and 15 of Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987, did not take away the jurisdiction of the consumer courts to decide the question of deficiency of service. The consumer courts cannot sub-plant the jurisdiction of the Railway Tribunal or any other judicial or quasi-judicial body but can supplement the jurisdiction of these bodies in appropriate cases.
Keeping in view the above observations, National Commission in the matter of Union of India versus Ajay Kumar Agrawal and others made the following observation.
As per the circular dated 11 September 1998, the ministry of railways, Government of India, published some of the important duties. The list of duties prescribed by the Railways administration for ‘Train Ticket Examiner (TTE) for Sleeper Coaches’ is brought on record. Of these, duties prescribed at numbers 4, 14, 16 and 17 are relevant. These are as follows: the coach, guide them to their berth/seats, and prevent unauthorised persons from entering the coach. He shall in particular ensure that persons holding platform tickets, who came to see off or receive passengers, do not enter the coach. kept latched when the train is on the move and open them up for passengers as and when required. trains are kept locked between 22:00 and 6:00 hours to prevent outsiders from entering the coach. time and ensure that intruders, beggars, hawkers and unauthorised persons do not enter the coach. The above duties clearly indicate that there is a responsibility cast on the TTE to be vigilant about
“The consumer court cannot sub-plant the jurisdiction of the Railway
Tribunal or any other judicial or quasi-judicial body, but can supplement
the jurisdiction of these bodies in appropriate cases. It provides an additional remedy to the consumer".
anyone other than the reserved ticketholders entering the compartment. He is required to prevent even a relative of the passenger with a platform ticket from entering a coach.
Thus, if the TTE is not performing any of the above-mentioned duties, a case of deficiency in services against them is justified.
More Cases to Note
Similar verdicts have been passed by various courts. In the case of Hemant Vasant Bhavsar versus In-charge Central Railways Booking Office, Maharashtra, and others, as well as in the case of Union of India versus Niva Agrawal, the Supreme Court held that the TTE was bound to observe the duties cast upon him, failing which it shall be considered ‘deficiency in services’ on the part of the Indian Railways.
The Supreme Court has also maintained the verdict of the National Commission with regard to Sections 13 and 15 of Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987. The apex court has stated that these provisions do not take away the jurisdiction of the consumer courts to decide on the question of deficiency of service. The consumer court cannot sub-plant the jurisdiction of the Railway Tribunal or any other judicial or quasi-judicial body, but can supplement the jurisdiction of these bodies in appropriate cases. It provides an additional remedy to a consumer.
Another notable verdict is from the Union of India versus Manoj H Pathak case. In this case, the National Commission’s statement read: “It is not in dispute that the complainant had hired services of Railways Administration for consideration and if there is any negligence or deficiency in service on the part of the Railways Administration, then it is a consumer dispute within the scope and ambit of Section 2 (1) (d) of Consumer Protection Act.”