New Delhi: A Parliamentary Committee has asked the Ministry of Railways to hold detailed discussion with various stakeholders before introducing the amendments to the Railways Act 1989 to redefine ‘accidental falling’ in railway accidents and change the eligibility criteria for compensation.
The Standing Committee on Railways, headed by Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi, in its latest report, expressed “serious concern” over the proposed amendments and said detailed discussions with stakeholders should be held before making any major changes in the Act.
Though the proposed amendments involve public interest, these have been proposed without any kind of consultation process with the most crucial stakeholders such as Railways Accident Victims Associations, Railways Claims Tribunal Bar Associations and passenger associations, the panel said.
The Railway Ministry, through the Railways (Amendment) Bill, 2014, has sought to amend Sections 109 and 123 and to insert Section 124B in the Railways Act, to redefine ‘accidental falling’ in railway accidents and make changes to the eligibility criteria for passengers and their dependents to claim compensation in the aftermath of an accident.
As per the proposed amendments, railways is liable to pay compensation for injuries or death caused by train accidents. However, no compensation is payable in case of death or injury due to suicide or attempted suicide, self-inflicted injuries, criminal acts of passengers, acts committed by the passenger in a state of intoxication or insanity.
The parliamentary committee has stated that indisputably it is the railway users alone – the ordinary citizens of the country for whom the railways is the most affordable mode of transport that provides the maximum connectivity – who will be the most affected at the ground level if this bill is passed.
“It needs reiteration that ours is a welfare state and the entire government machinery and their actions are accountable to the public at large,” the report said.
The 31-member committee is, therefore, of the firm view that an organisation of the stature and standing of Indian Railways will not be able to formulate and implement a passenger-friendly policy without the active participation of various stakeholders concerned.
From the feedback made available to the committee, it is quite evident that very pertinent and genuine apprehensions of the stakeholders have remained unaddressed by the Ministry.
“The rightful course would have been for the Ministry to have discussed issues covered under the proposed amendment bill with them at the zonal railways levels,” it said.
However, to the “utter disappointment” of the committee, railways has regrettably failed to take the right initiative in this direction, the committee said.
The committee, therefore, recommend that before bringing any Bill before Parliament, especially if it involves public interest, various stakeholders should invariably be consulted before major policy changes impacting their concerns are effected by the railway administration.
It has recommended that in deference to the railway commuters who have lost their lives or who have become permanently disabled in railway accidents, the government should rework their priorities in respect of passenger safety.
On the issue of large number of cases piling up at the Railway Claims Tribunal, the committee said it is appalled to find that as on January 31, 2015, as many as 38,637 compensation claims are pending.
The overall position of pending cases in Lucknow, Mumbai and Patna benches of Railway Claims Tribunal is alarming at 7,831, 5,859, and 3,595 cases respectively, it said.
Though the reasons for non-resettlement of compensation claims could be manifold, but in the committee’s view the foremost reason for the rising number of compensation claims is the non-filling of vacant post of Member (Judicial), and member technical in the RCT Benches.
The committee has, therefore, strongly recommended that the ministry should re-work their priorities and ensure that all the existing vacant posts in the Railway Claims Tribunals are filled up expeditiously.
The committee has also urged the Railways to formulate a pragmatic policy whereby the Railways should anticipate the number of vacancies arising during the year and take proactive steps to fill up the same so as to ensure that in future the positions in the Railway Claims Tribunals do not remain vacant for a long time.