While travelling in an AC III- tier coach of the Lucknow Mail, R C Chopra was found unconscious around 7.30am on December 22, 1998. The police admitted him to Delhi’s Sucheta Kripalani Hospital at 11.25 am. He passed away the following day.
Chopra was robbed of the cash and demand drafts he was carrying. An autopsy report said he died of poisoning and pontine haemorrhage, owing to the acute adverse effect of Nitrazepam.
Investigations revealed H M Behal and his family had cancelled their reservation at the last minute and had received 50 per cent refund. But the Lucknow reservation office and the travelling ticket examiner (TTE) allowed some unauthorised persons to travel on those tickets as the Behals. It appeared the miscreants had given Chopra tea laced with sleep-inducing Nitrazepam.
Even after Chopra was found unconscious, no medical aid was provided. And, even after the train reached New Delhi, the TTE and the coach attendant were casual about the incident. The train was shunted into the yard from where Chopra was carried in a luggage trolley to the hospital. No attempt was made to identify the miscreants.
Nirmala, Chopra’s widow, filed a complaint against the railways before the National Consumer Commission. She secured Behal’s affidavit to substantiate he and his family had cancelled their tickets. Nirmala said Chopra was allotted seat number 11, while the three miscreants travelled on seats 14, 15 and 16. She alleged these miscreants had poisoned her husband to loot him, and held the railways liable for permitting them to travel fraudulently. She stated her husband was healthy, adding the family was affluent and Chopra’s relatives would have taken him to a better hospital if they had been intimated on time. She blamed failure to provide immediate medical help for her husband’s untimely death. The railways contested the complaint, arguing the Railways Claims Tribunal had the exclusive jurisdiction to decide such disputes. It claimed Chopra might have committed suicide by consuming Nitrazepam, adding once he was found unconscious, he was attended to in all possible ways.
The National Commission said deficiency was evident in the case. Though the Behal family had cancelled its tickets, railway records showed it had travelled. The identity of the three miscreants remained a mystery and the train conductor and TTE were ignorant of this. Yet, the railways didn’t demand an explanation from its officials, instead attempting to hide the truth. The commission refused to speculate on whether Chopra was poisoned or had committed suicide. The important point, it said, was a patient found unconscious at 7.25am was not attended to till 11.25 am. It ruled this was a case of negligence, inaction and passivity on the part of railway authorities. According to paragraph 3.35 of the Indian Railways Commercial Manual, Volume-I, railway authorities are duty-bound to provide medical assistance to sick passengers. There was no explanation on why Chopra wasn’t provided medical aid at Ghaziabad. Indicting the railway administration for trying to protect its staff and turning a blind eye to indiscipline, the commission said the railway staff was responsible for Chopra’s death.
It directed the railways to pay Rs 10 lakh to Nirmala within 90 days of the receipt of the order and, subsequently, with nine per cent interest for delay in the payment. It also directed the Divisional Railway Manager, Northern Railways, to conduct an inquiry against the doctor, the train conductor, the TTE and the coach attendant and provide a report on this by April 1, 2014. Failure to do so within the stipulated period would be construed as disobedience, amounting to contempt of court, it added. Official apathy and procedural delays cause more deaths than accidents. This landmark ruling should hopefully pinch callous officials and make them realise the value of human life.