New Delhi: Despite smoking leading to fire mishaps on trains, the failure of the Railway Board to amend the Railway Act and introduce stringent punishments for offenders was pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its report submitted in Parliament on Tuesday.
The report, based on a survey and audits done on the causes of fire mishaps in train coaches, including in South Central Railway, has raised debate over the shortcomings in the act.
Experts say there is a legal confusion over a “blanket ban” on smoking in trains and rail stations, which is governed by the three acts — the Railways Act 1989, Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003 and Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules 2008.
Section 167(1) of the Railways Act states if co-passengers object to smoking, the violator is punishable by a fine of Rs 100. However, Clause 2 in the same section states that the railway administration is authorised to prohibit smoking on trains.
A Railway Protection Force official said, “The ambiguity of passengers objecting has to be removed from the act. As per the act it is a petty offence. Perhaps the CAG was pointing at stringent punishment.”
Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, which speaks about prohibition of smoking in public places that also include railway property, talks about display of “no smoking area” signs and segregation of “smoking area” and “no smoking area”, giving rise to ambiguity.
The Union ministry of health issued a notification on September 15, 2009, authorising train ticket examiners and RPF assistant sub-inspectors to take action against smokers at stations, trains, platforms, waiting rooms and reservation counters.
However TTEs, who are busy penalising ticketless travellers and un-booked luggage, take the job of fining smokers as secondary.
Advocate K. Balraj said, “The existence of several Acts for the same offence is leading to further confusion. The Railway Act has to be amended to remove the ambiguity in Clause 1 and this has to be made stringent as well. Imposing a fine of Rs100 as per the Railway Act won’t do as the human loss due to fire mishaps is huge.”
The CAG, in its report, said: “The inquiry committee on the fire accident pertaining to 2014 has also recommended for the amendment to Section 167 of Indian Railway Act 1989. Railway Board has not yet amended Section 167 of Indian Railway Act to prohibit smoking in trains and railway premises and provide stringent punishment for violation.”
A joint survey conducted by auditors and railway officials found that fire-prone activities like cigarette smoking, cooking by vendors at stations, carrying inflammable articles by unauthorised persons, accumulation of empty card board boxes and other waste materials went unchecked, aggravating the risk of fire.
A senior Railway Protection Force official with the South Central Railway said, “We have been implementing the Railway Act and Health Act to impose fines. We will go through the CAG report.
The amendment issue has to be taken up at the top level. Regarding the Railway Act, violators will be taken to court by RPF staff after they are found smoking and under 167 clause 2, with a summary trial in the court, they are fine up to Rs100 as it is petty offence.”
Meanwhile, smokers demand designated zones on railway stations like in airports and also designated fireproof smoking areas on trains like in the West. Most smoke in toilets and at the doors.