Moneylife Foundation rejects proposed ‘anti-passenger’ amendments in Railways Bill
Samir Zaveri Railway Helpline of Moneylife Foundation has opposed the amendments related with redefining ‘accidental falling’, which aims to put entire blame on the commuter and ‘compensation’ paid to victims or her family, in Railways (Amendment) Bill, 2014
An amendment has recently been proposed to the Railways [Amendment] Bill (no.91 of 2014) which would redefine what would be considered a case of “accidental falling” in Railway accidents, and also make changes to the eligibility criteria for passengers (or their dependents) to claim compensation in the aftermath of an accident. The Samir Zaveri Railway Helpline through Moneylife Foundation
has opposed the amendment, for the simple reason that it goes against the interest of railway commuters, especially those who travel daily on Mumbai Suburban Rail Network (Mumbai locals).
The amendment has proposed that cases where a passenger suffers an accident while trying to enter or exit a train in motion would be ineligible for demanding compensation. The amendment also proposes that passengers who have suffered injuries due to “negligence” or “carelessness” will not be provided any compensation. Perhaps they have forgotten that a massive 75 lakh commuters use the Mumbai locals on a daily basis in rather inhuman conditions, constantly battling with delays and overcrowding. Not just that, there are over 6,000 accidents reported every year in which there are over 3,300 deaths.
In the proposed amendment (Section 123 of the Principal Act), any case of “accident falling” would exclude - “a passenger falling from a train while entering or leaving or attempting to enter or leave any carriage while the train in in motion, or elsewhere that at the side of the carriage adjoining the platform, or other place appointed by the railway administration for passengers to enter or leave the carriage, or while standing near the door or opens the door of any carriage while the train is in motion...”
In short, this clause simply excludes most of the passengers (especially those who travel during rush hours in Mumbai locals) from being eligible for receiving any compensation in case of an accident.
Furthermore, the amendment seeks to overturn a path-breaking judgement of the Bombay High Court that followed a 13-year long litigation by a gutsy woman whose husband passed away in a railway accident. In this case, the High Court order (First Appeal No 118 of 2010/Madhuri & others vs Union of India/GM-Western Railway) clarified the meaning of ‘untoward incident’ as “the accidental falling of any passenger from a train carrying passengers”
It must be noted that the Station Master on duty files the first report in Railway accident case, and what goes into the report is entirely up to him/her. While dependents of the victims have no say in what is being entered into the records, the situation is worse for passengers travelling alone, because there is no witness to prove their account of the incident.
Next, according to the Section 124B of the proposed amendment, a passenger is not eligible for compensation under four circumstances – suicide or attempted suicide by him; self-inflicted injury; his own criminal act; and his own carelessness or negligence.
In the first case (suicide or attempt to suicide), Moneylife Foundation is of the opinion that in the absence of a suicide note, accidents should not be declared as a case of suicide.
In the second case (self-inflicted injury), it needs to be ensured that such cases are not passed off as incidents of trespassing. In fact, it is the Railways' responsibility to ensure proper fencing across railway tracks, proper platform heights, overhead bridges and walkways free of hawkers for people to walk on.
In the third and fourth case (his own criminal act or his own carelessness or negligence), the onus of proof must lie on the Railways, and not the passenger. Since the contents of the accident report are entirely up to the railway officers, it is very easy to suggest that accidents were caused by negligence on part of the passengers, and then leave it up to them to fight the hard battle of proving themselves innocent while also suffering a huge personal and monetary loss.
Rather than taking steps to ensure safety of passengers – some of which have been promised for many years, like increased frequency of trains during peak hours, efforts to reduce overcrowding in trains, additional tracks and closed doors in carriages – an amendment has been proposed. The amendment only serves to shift the blame for the several deaths in Railway accidents on to the hapless passengers and allow the Railways to go scot-free.