24 Sep 2010

Railway to pay compensation for fall of passenger: Supreme Court

In a recent decision [Jameela v. Union of India] the Supreme Court has declared that it is not permissible for the Railways to deny compensation to the kin of those passenger who have fallen from the train. It was argued by the Department that the passenger was negligent in standing at the gate of the rail compartment in a moving train and thus there was no liability to pay compensation. The Bench, however, declared otherwise. Holding that it was not uncommon for the passenger to stand on the gates, the Supreme Court declared that unless there was intent to commit a criminal act, the liability to pay compensation could not be denied.

The Supreme Court inter alia observed as under;
5. We are of the considered view that the High Court gravely erred in holding that the applicants were not entitled to any compensation under section 124A of the Act, because the deceased had died by falling down from the train because of his own negligence. First, the case of the Railway that the deceased M. Hafeez was standing at the open door of the train compartment in a negligent manner from where he fell down is entirely based on speculation. There is admittedly no eyewitness of the fall of the deceased from the train and, therefore, there is absolutely no evidence to support the case of the Railway that the accident took place in the manner suggested by it. Secondly, even if it were to be assumed that the deceased  fell from the train to his death due to his own negligence it will not have any effect on the compensation payable under section 124 A of the Act.
6. Chapter XIII of the Railways Act, 1989 deals with the Liability of Railway Administration for Death and Injury to Passengers due to Accidents. Section 123, the first section of the Chapter, has the definition clauses. Clause (c) defines “untoward incident” which insofar as relevant for the present is as under:
“123 (c) untoward incident means-
(1) (i) xxxxxxxx
(ii) xxxxxxxx
(iii) xxxxxxxx
(2) the accidental falling of any passenger from a train carrying passengers.”
Section 124A of the Act provides as follows: 
“124A. Compensation on account of untoward incident. - When in the course of working a railway an untoward incident occurs, then whether or not there has been any wrongful act, neglect or default on the part of the railway administration such as would entitle a passenger who has been injured or the dependant of a passenger who has been killed to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, the railway administration shall, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, be liable to pay compensation to such extent as may be prescribed and to that extent only for loss occasioned by the death of, or injury to, a passenger as a result of such untoward incident: 
Provided that no compensation shall be payable under this section by the railway administration if the passenger dies or suffers injury due to -
(a) suicide or attempted suicide by him;
(b) self-inflicted injury;
(c) his own criminal act;
(d) any act committed by him in a state of intoxication or insanity;
(e) any natural cause or disease or medical or surgical treatment unless such treatment becomes necessary due to injury caused by the said untoward incident.
Explanation - For the purposes of this section, "passenger" includes -
(i) a railway servant on duty; and
(ii) a person who has purchased a valid ticket for travelling by a train carrying passengers, on any date or a valid platform ticket and becomes a victim of an untoward incident.” 
7. It is not denied by the Railway that M. Hafeez fell down from the train and died while travelling on it on a valid ticket. He was, therefore, clearly a “passenger” for the purpose of section 124A as clarified by the Explanation. It is now to be seen, that under section 124A the liability to pay compensation is regardless of any wrongful act, neglect or default on the part of the railway administration. But the proviso to the section says that the railway administration would have no liability to pay any compensation in case death of the passenger or injury to him was caused due to any of the reasons enumerated in clauses (a) to (e). 
8. Coming back to the case in hand, it is not the case of the Railway that the death of M. Hafeez was a case of suicide or a result of self-inflicted injury. It is also not the case that he died due to his own criminal act or he was in a state of intoxication or he was insane, or he died due to any natural cause or disease. His falling down from the train was, thus, clearly accidental.
9. The manner in which the accident is sought to be reconstructed by the Railway, the deceased was standing at the open door of the train compartment from where he fell down, is called by the railway itself as negligence. Now negligence of this kind which is not very uncommon on Indian trains is not the same thing as a criminal act mentioned in clause (c) to the proviso to section 124 A. A criminal act envisaged under clause (c) must have an element of malicious intent or mens rea. Standing at the open doors of the compartment of a running train may be a negligent act, even a rash act but, without anything else, it is certainly not a criminal act. Thus, the case of the railway must fail even after assuming everything in its favour.
10. We are, therefore, constrained to interfere in the matter. The judgment and order of the High Court coming under appeal is set aside and the judgment and order of the Tribunal is restored. Since a period of more than 10 years has already elapsed from the date of the judgment of the Tribunal, the compensation money along with interest need not be kept in fixed deposits, but should be paid to the appellants in the ratio fixed by the Tribunal. The payment must be made within 2 months from today. 

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