While considering an appeal, Union of India v. Rina Devi, decided on 9th May, 2018, the Supreme Court resolved 4 issues under the Railways Act, 1989 replete with conflicting decisions by various High Courts. The same are as follows:
Quantum of Compensation
The compensation will be payable as applicable on the date of the accident with interest as may be considered reasonable from time to time on the same pattern as in accident claim cases. If the amount so calculated is less than the amount prescribed as on the date of the award of the Tribunal, claimant will be entitled to higher of the two amounts. The present case being a case of a beneficial legislation, if two interpretations are possible, interpretation beneficial to the claimant has to be followed.
Definition of Passenger
“Passenger” as provided for in the proviso to Section 124A includes a railway servant on duty, and a person who has purchased a valid ticket for travelling by a train carrying passengers, on any date or a valid platform ticket and becomes a victim of an untoward incident.
The general is that any person dead or injured found on the railway premises has to be presumed to be a bona fide passenger so as to maintain a claim for compensation.
But the Supreme Court is of the opinion that mere presence of a body on the Railway premises will not be conclusive to hold that injured or deceased was a bona fide passenger for which claim for compensation could be maintained. However, mere absence of a ticket with such injured or deceased will not negative the claim that he was a bona fide passenger.
Application of concept of Strict Liability : concept of self-inflicted injury
Sections 124 and 124A of the Railways Act, 1989 provide that compensation is payable whether or not there has been wrongful act, neglect or fault on the part of the railway administration in the case of an accident of an “untoward incident”. This is referred to as the ‘no fault thoery’.
Exceptions to such compensation are enlisted in the proviso to Section 124A and include the following:
- Suicide or attempted suicide
- Self-inflicted injury
- Criminal act
- Act committed in a state of intoxication or insanity
- Any natural cause or disease or medical or surgical treatment unless such treatment becomes necessary due to injury caused by the said untoward incident
The Supreme Court dismissed the view that “negligence per se will not disentitle grant of compensation under the Railways Act, however, once the negligence becomes a criminal negligence and self-inflicted injury then compensation cannot be granted; and in its place held that
“the concept of ‘self-inflicted injury’ would require intention to inflict such injury and not mere negligence of any particular degree. Doing so would amount to invoking the principle of contributory negligence which cannot be done in the case of liability based on ‘no fault theory. Accordingly, we hold that the death or injury in the course of boarding or de-boarding a train will be an ‘untoward incident’ entitling a victim to the compensation and will not fall under the proviso to section 124A merely on the plea of negligence of the victim as a contributing factor.’”
Rate of interest
The Supreme Court has ruled that in the absence of any specific statutory provision, interest can be awarded from the date of accident itself when the liability of the Railways arises up to the date of payment, without any difference in the stages. Legal position in this regard is at par with the cases of accident claims under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
The Indian Lawyer