Is the Indian Railways accountable for valuables stolen from the passengers? A consumer forum in Chennai has ruled so and ordered the railways to pay Rs 4.05 lakh as compensation to a family from which valuables worth about Rs 10 lakh was stolen from a running train.
While the railways argued that the theft of the property is only due to negligence of the passenger, the forum ruled that it was the failure of the TTE in preventing the entry of unauthorised persons into a reserved coach that resulted in the theft. Hence, the railways is liable to compensate the passenger for the loss.
The family of Kamal Kumar Maheshwary and Meenakshmi Maheshwary, both NRIs, were on January 20, 2015 travelling to New Delhi from Chennai in the Second AC (2A) class coach of Tamil Nadu Express. Near Agra railway station they noticed that their suitcase containing costly jewels and other items totally worth about Rs 10 lakh was missing. The chain with which they have tied suitcase was tied to the berth was found to be cut. A few co-passengers have said that they noticed two persons getting down with the suitcases at Agra railway station around 2 am.
The family moved the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Chennai (North) seeking a compensation of Rs 13 lakh from the railways. "It is very clear that an unauthorized person has been allowed to enter in the 2nd AC compartment by the attendants and the TTE and that unauthorized person had the guts to take away two big suitcases belonging to the complainants," the complainant's counsel argued in the forum.
The counsel of the railways cited the Section 100 of Railway Act and argued that only in cases of booked luggages the railways is responsible for the destruction or loss of the property. "In the present complaint, the suitcases were carried by the complainants in their personal charge. Hence the alleged loss was because of the negligence of the complainants only," the railways argued. It also argued that safety of the passenger's property is the responsibility of the Government Railway Police and hence the complainants must seek remedy with the police.
However, the forum presided by K Lakshmikantham, on a closer reading of the Section 100 of the Railway Act said that the railways is accountable for the loss of the luggages of the passengers when it is proved that the railway staff were negligent it their duty. Citing earlier rulings of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, the forum observed that a major responsibility of the TTE, in addition to examining the tickets, is to ensure that no intruders enter the reserved compartments.
"The price difference between the unreserved ticket and a reserved ticket is quite high and the traveling public who buy a reserved ticket would expect that they can enjoy the train journey with a certain minimum amount of security and safety," the forum cited a ruling given by the national commission in 2013.
In the present case, the forum observed that the theft seems to had taken place due to entry of unauthorised entry of persons into the reserved coach. On the other hand, the family had taken enough precaution by tying the suitcase with a chain to the berth and also< immediately brought the loss of the property to the notice of the TTE and lodged a police complaint.
The forum concluded, "Therefore as pointed out on the side of the complainants, the safe travel of the complainants was shaky, if the employees of the railways are not vigilant and see that no unauthorized person enter into the AC coaches during night hours." The forum said that there is no authentic proof of the value of the properties lost and ordered the railways to pay Rs 4.05 lakh as compensation.