The Supreme Court has held that the railways will have to cough up and pay passengers compensation for deficiency of service for late running of trains if they cannot establish or prove that the delay occurred due to reasons beyond its control.
“These are the days of competition and accountability. If the public transportation has to survive and compete with private players, they have to improve the system and their working culture. Citizens/passengers cannot be at the mercy of the authorities/administration. Somebody has to accept the responsibility,” a Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Aniruddha Bose observed in an order on Tuesday.
The court upheld the compensation awarded to a passenger whose train was delayed by four hours while travelling to Jammu with his family in 2016. They missed their flight and had to take an expensive taxi to Srinagar. They also lost their booking of a boat on Dal Lake.
The District Consumer Forum put it down as deficiency in service by the railways. The forum ordered the North Western Railway to pay the disgruntled passenger ₹15,000 for taxi expenses, ₹10,000 towards booking expenses, along with ₹5,000 each towards mental agony and litigation expenses.
Though the railways went on appeal, their efforts failed both at the State and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions. The consumer fora, in the same voice, said the railways had never explained why the train was delayed at Jammu.
In the top court, Additional Solicitor-General Aishwarya Bhati, for the railways, vehemently submitted that late running of trains could not be said to be deficiency in service on the part of the railways. She quoted Rule 114 and Rule 115 of the Indian Railway Conference Association Coaching Tariff, which said there should not be any liability of the railways to pay compensation for late running of trains.
“There may be a number of reasons for delay and late running of trains,” the top law officer argued.
However, the court was not convinced.
“No evidence at all was led by the railways explaining the delay and/or late arrival of trains at Jammu. The railways were required to lead the evidence and explain the late arrival of trains to establish and prove that delay occurred because of reasons beyond their control. At least the railways were required to explain the delay, which they failed,” the Supreme Court observed in its seven-page order.
The court reinforced the concept that “every passenger’s time is precious, they might have booked tickets for further journeys”. “Like in the present case from Jammu to Srinagar and thereafter further journey,” the court noted.
“Therefore, unless and until the evidence is laid explaining the delay and it is established and proved that delay occurred beyond their control and/or even there was some justification for delay, the railways are liable to pay the compensation for delay and late arrival of trains,” the Supreme Court held, dismissing the appeal filed by the railways.