A District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum at Thrissur has allowed three railway commuters compensation after their train from Wadakkanchery to Payyanur was delayed by six hours without any alternatives being provided by the Railway station authorities.
The Order in their favour was pronounced in January this year but released last week. The Bench comprised of President of the Forum CT Sabu, K Radhakrishnan Nair, and Sreeja S.
Holding the Opposite Party Station Superintendent of the Wadakkanchery Railway Station and Senior Divisional Commercial Manager liable, the three-member bench remarked,
“it is the pious duty of the opposite parties to explain the exact reasons for the late running.”
The complainants, one MM Babu, PS George, and KM Joy approached the Consumer Forum through Advocate Benny AD in 2013 after a train they were scheduled to travel by was delayed. Despite their entreaties, the Opposite Parties were unable to provide any additional details about the tentative arrival of the train or alternatives available to them.
After someone else informed the complainants that they could board a train for their destination Payyanur from the Railway Station at Shornur, the complainants travelled to from Shornur Station and boarded a train for Payyanur.
Their requests for a refund/cancellation at Waddakanchery Station were also denied on the contention that the ticket had to be surrendered the Ticket Deposit Receipt and that the train had to be late “at least for three hours“.
Aggrieved that the opposite party railway officials were not equipped to provide information concerning the arrival and departure of trains, the complainants approached the District Forum under the erstwhile Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
A lawyer’s notice prior to their approaching the Forum was not responded to, it was alleged additionally.
Averring that there was deficiency of service, the complainants sought a refund of ticket charges and Rs 10,000 to each of the complainants as well as court costs.
Categorically denying the averments, the Opposite Parties averred that that the complaint was not maintainable because the Railways were not liable to pay compensation in Indian Railway Tariff Rules. In Rule 306, the Railways disclaimed any losses or extra expenses due to accommodation in a reserved seat, berth, compartment, coach, or carriage not being provided for or not provided on time.
Asserting that the claim was for unjust enrichment, the railway contended,
“railways is owned and managed by Government of India and if such claims are entertained, it would drain the national exchequer”.
It was also submitted that the General Manager of Southern Railway was a necessary party and had to be impleaded.
Framing two questions, the Forum queried whether there was a deficiency of service and if yes, what would be the reliefs available to the complainants.
Referring to the Opposite Parties’ version and affidavits, the Forum pointed that they had admitted to the tickets being issued by them as well as the delayed running of the train in question.
Before the Forum, it had been averred that the train was delayed by more than six hours and that the train was delayed for some unavoidable and safety measures.
In this light, the Forum concluded that the Opposite Parties were liable to pay compensation.
“In the absence of any contra evidence on the part of opposite parties to establish that the late running was due to a genuine reason beyond the control of the Southerm Railway officials or their subordinates, this Commission has no other altermative but to fix the blame on the opposite parties alone only.”
Stating that the complainants were ‘in the dark’ without any information as to alternative travel arrangements or redressal, the Forum reasoned that such actionable wrongs afforded the consumers an eflective remedy under the Consumer Protection Act.
The forum stated,
The questions of consumer and lack of jurisdiction and applicability of Rule 306 of ICRA coaching Tariff part I Vol I are devoid of any merits and answered in negative. Having proved the deficiency in service on the part of opposite parties the complainants are entitled to relief and opposite parties are liable to pay the relief considering the hardships and mental agony suffered by the complainants.
Therefore, the Forum expressed the view that it could not be complacent and accept that the opposite party as a service provider discharged its role efficiently.
In its Order, the Forum takes the opportunity of remarking upon the Indian Railways and its working, extracting Gurcharan Das’ opinion in his introduction to the book ‘Indian Railways – The Weaving of a National Tapestry’, authored by Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha and Vijay Krishnamurthi and the legislative assembly’s consideration of the findings of the Acworth Committee in 1924.
The Forum noted Das’ statement, that Roy’s work continues to disclose the bad news that the Indian Railways are inefficient, hopelessly over manned, utterly politicized sometimes corrupt and provide shoddy callous service.
In this respect, the Forum remarked, “The above quote is just taken to high-light that there are such remarks also to which this Commission is not prepared to vouch or comment.
In the course of its order, the Bench also said, “Today Indian Railways are the Indian Government in miniature. Good in quantity but poor in quality. Every day they weave a nation together. In 2015-16 they sold 806 billion tickets. which translate in to roughly seven journeys per person per year. A nation is on the move, thanks in part to the Railways. The poorest Indian is mobile because railway tickets are cheaper than almost anywhere in the world, this is the good news.“
With these observations, the complaint was allowed.