The Supreme Court on September 6 held that the railways will have to compensate its passengers for deficiency of service if it cannot justify why a train is running late. This means, disgruntled passengers can claim compensation if the Railways cannot explain why the trains are running late.
Every passenger's time is precious, the court had observed while passing the order.
The Supreme Court enforced the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) order directing the Northern Railways to pay Rs 30,000 with 9 percent interest to Sanjay Shukla who, in 2016, missed his flight to Srinagar because the Ajmer-Jammu train he was traveling in reached its destination four hours late.
"These are the days of competition and accountability. If public transportation has to survive and compete with private players, they have to improve the system and their working culture, the court said. "Citizens/passengers cannot be at the mercy of the authorities/administration. Somebody has to accept the responsibility," the top court bench comprising Justices MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose observed.
"Therefore, unless and until the evidence is laid explaining the delay and it is established and proved that delay occurred which was beyond their control and/or even there was some justification for delay, the railway is liable to pay the compensation for delay and late arrival of trains," the court's order read.
The top court's order came on a plea filed by the Northern railways challenging the district and state consumer forums decisions directing it to compensate Shukla.
Delay means deficiency of service: Consumer Forum
In 2016, Shukla approached the consumer forum stating that he had missed his flight to Srinagar because the train he was traveling in reached Jammu station four hours late. Shukla said he not only missed his flight but also had to additionally fork out Rs 15,000 for a taxi to take him to Srinagar. Shukla and his family also lost their booking on a boat at Dal Lake incurring additional expenditure.
The Alwar District Consumer Forum held the Railways accountable and put down the delay as a deficiency in service. The forum had directed Northern Western Railway to pay Shukla Rs. 15,000 for taxi expenses, Rs. 10,000 towards booking expenses, and Rs. 5,000 each towards mental agony and litigation expenses.
The Railways challenged this order but failed to make its case before the apex consumer body and later the Supreme Court.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, who represented the railways in the Supreme Court, had argued that a train running late could not be chalked down to a deficiency in service. Arguing against the compensation, she said "there may be a number of reasons for the delay and the late running of trains."
The top court however did not buy into her arguments. "No evidence at all was led by the railways explaining the delay and/or late arrival of trains at Jammu. The railways were required to lead the evidence and explain the late arrival of trains to establish and prove that delay occurred because of reasons beyond their control. At least the railways were required to explain the delay, which they failed," the Supreme Court observed in its seven-page order.