The Apex Court elucidates that the compensation cannot be denied on the ground of negligence on the part of the passenger and said it is an “untoward incident” and the victim is entitled to compensation. As per the present legislation, section 124A of the Railways Act, 1989 no compensation will be given to a passenger if he dies or suffers injury due to suicide or while trying to commit suicide.
There was a conflict of opinion of different High Courts as some applied the principles of strict liability and held that railways should be responsible while others said it was due to the negligence of the passengers and railways should not be held accountable for the same.
Removing this ambiguity, the Supreme Court held that the railways will have to pay compensation to victims. It declined to accept the concept of “self-inflicted injury”.
Justice AK Goel and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman
Issues of the Case
The bench was hearing an appeal of a compensation of Rs 4 lakh under Section 124A of the Railways Act, 1989. The appeal was made by a woman whose husband Jatan Gope had died in an untoward incident’ in 2002. She claimed that he had bought a second-class train ticket and died after falling from the train due to the rush of passengers.
The claims, however, were challenged by the Central government. It had argued that the Gope was not a passenger but was merely roaming around the railway tracks. One Kailash Gope, who had also witnessed the accident, said that the deceased had bought a ticket and fell in front of his eyes.
The Railway Claims Tribunal challenged the appeals saying that the deceased was not a passenger and that it was a case of run over.
A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices AK Goel and Rohinton Fali Nariman ruled that in case of an “untoward accident” compensation must be paid no matter if the accident was not a case of “wrongful act, neglect or fault on the part of the railway administration.”
The Section 124A of the Railways Act, 1989, says that no compensation can be paid if the passenger commits suicide or attempts suicide or commits any such act that harms him/her. The apex court also ruled that when it is about the case “untoward accident”, the proof of negligence is not required.
“Compensation as applicable on the date of the accident has to be given with reasonable interest and to give effect to the mandate of beneficial legislation, if compensation, as provided on the date of award of the Tribunal, is higher than unrevised amount with interest, the higher of the two amounts have to be given,” the bench said.