Railways to land into tough legal tangles & heavy penalties for Treating Passengers Shoddily

New Delhi:  Two years ago, the Indian Railways had come in for severe criticism for its insensitive handling of the rescue operation of a passenger caught between the platform and a railway coach at the Nizamuddin Railway station. No doctor was brought in during the hour-long rescue attempt, nor an ambulance called to transport him to a hospital. It was horrifying to see him carried away in a dirty baggage trolley.

Now the High Court has censured the largest central public sector undertaking for its callous indifference towards a passenger who took ill during travel. The events that unfold in this case makes one shudder because even though the passenger, RC Chopra, 65, was found in an unconscious state around 7.30am and the nearest station was Ghaziabad, he was not provided any medical aid there. The excuse the railways offered was that an attempt was made to get a doctor there, but could not succeed as the halt was very brief.

Even when the Lucknow Mail arrived at the New Delhi station, there was no arrangement to rush him to the hospital. The TTE and the coach attendant abandoned the passenger and the train was shunted to the yard. From there, he was carried in a luggage trolley by the railway police and admitted to Sucheta Kriplani Hospital. He never regained consciousness and died after two days. The post-mortem report described the cause of death as “adverse effects of Nitrazepam”.

According to the complaint filed by his wife before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Chopra was probably given tea laced with a heavy dose of Nitrazepam, leading to his condition. What added credence to this theory was the fact that he had been robbed of all his cash and demand drafts. Besides, the complainant found that three persons had travelled in Chopra’s cubicle, but they were not those whose names were in the reservation list. HM Behal and two members of his family had cancelled their tickets at the last minute because of the heavy fog.

Holding the railways guilty of negligence on several counts, the High Court awarded a compensation of Rs.10 lakh to the complainant (Nirmala Devi Chopra Vs Union of India, RP No.72 of 2001).  National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission also upheld the award and asked Railways to pay the compensation to the bereaved family immediately.

This case dates back to December 22, 1998. I wish the commission had asked the railways whether it has a well laid-out plan for dealing with such emergencies on trains. In 2010, the railways had mooted a plan to have a doctor and a para-medic on board all long-distance trains, beginning with Duronto trains. Then in June 2011, the Northern Railway had announced the availability of ambulances for any emergencies at railway stations. Yet, when a passenger was wedged between the train and the platform later that year, neither a doctor nor an ambulance was available.

The railways have a responsibility in ensuring that passengers who fall ill during a journey are provided proper medical care and treated with dignity and respect. And railway passengers also have a right to know what provisions have been made by the railways to ensure this.

Ujjal Singh: Can I file a complaint against the railways for not providing accommodation in the reserved class (AC sleeper) and forcing me to travel in a non-air-conditioned coach during the height of summer?

In all such cases, the railways only offer to refund the difference in fares. So, for compensation for the suffering undergone, you need to approach the consumer court. In the Union of India vs Shri Mahendra Kumar Agrawal (RP No. 2,791 of 2008), for example, the national commission awarded Rs.10,000 to the consumer who was forced to travel second-class despite a ticket to travel by first class.