Railways fast-tracks Compensation Claims

NEW DELHI: From years-long hearings to justice in one day—the Railway Board has decided to convene lok adalats as an alternate dispute redressal mechanism to deal with its growing load of accident compensation claims. Currently, over 6,700 cases—some of which date to 2011—are pending before the Railway Claims Tribunal in Mumbai – accounting for the second highest national case load at more than 20 per cent. At least 30 claims are placed before the city tribunal every day.

Lucknow has the largest case pendency (over 7,000), followed by Guwahati (3,500), Gorakhpur (3,000) and Sikandrabad (2,600) in Uttar Pradesh, and Patna (2,400).

On December 13, authorities of railway administrations with more than 2,000 pending cases were summoned by the Railway Board to explain reasons for their backlogs. The Mumbai RCT blamed delays in submission of reports from the railway administration before the tribunal.

An untoward accident victim is liable for compensation under Section 124(A) of Railway Act, 1989, only if s/he has a valid ticket and if the accident was caused by the railways’ negligence. An official said within 90 days of an accident, the railway administration must ideally submit to its jurisdictional tribunal its report approved by the divisional railway manager. The report is prepared by the Railway Protection Force and the Government Railway Police. The report must include the circumstances of the accident and if the victim had a valid ticket.

The tribunal must dispose of the case in the next three months. While this sounds feasible on paper, officials said often, the railway administration usually takes at least one-and-a-half years to submit the accident report. In one case, the railway administration began preparing a report after a claim for compensation was placed before the Mumbai tribunal.

At the December 13 meeting, the Railway Board decided that cases that appear cut and dried—leaving no room for ambiguity on railways’ culpability in an accident—will be disposed of at lok adalats conducted by the tribunal in a day.

On an average, 3,000 people die on tracks in Mumbai, and as many sustain injuries in a year. A senior Railway Board officer said most of the city’s railway deaths are caused by track trespassing. “The city has a large number of settlements along railway tracks, which allows trespassing. In such cases, the railways is not liable for compensation.

But the circumstances that led to a death can be established only with a report prepared by the railway administration and approved by the divisional railway manager.” In August last year, an additional bench was sanctioned for the Mumbai RCT to deal with the high case load, but it is yet to be set up. “The tribunal in Mumbai looks after cases from both Central Railway and Western Railway.

There was some dispute between the two over who would provide the infrastructure for the second bench. The Central Railway later agreed to set up the bench and tenders were subsequently floated, but the work for it is yet to be completed,” said a railway official.

Mukul Jain, divisional railway manager of Western Railway who was present at the meeting last week, welcomed the idea of a lok adalat. “It will help dispose of not only those cases which are clear-cut but also those with minor doubts.”

For phatka robbery victim Dravita Singh who lost a portion of a foot and some fingers after being pulled off a train by a mobile phone robber near Sandhurst Road on February 7 this year, the news offers hope. Hemant Kumar Singh, her father, said the family claimed compensation four months ago. “We were told is that there is a huge pendency and cases submitted in 2013 are still being heard.

After the accident, my daughter has faced multiple surgeries and is still undergoing treatment, which is an expensive affair for a common man.” Calling Dravita’s case “clearcut”— an FIR was registered and the robber was arrested—he said were the lok adalat to hear her case quickly, the compensation she is eligible for would be used for the treatment.