It is in the fitness of things that the Bombay High Court has most recently on 20 January 2021 held in a latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment titled Smt Munnibai v. Union of India in First Appeal No. 259 of 2020 that one cannot be branded as an unauthorized train passenger merely because one mistakenly boards a wrong train. The Single Judge Bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessa ruled thus while directing railways to pay Rs 8 lakh as compensation to one Munnibai Chaube whose son died due to the injuries sustained in accidental fall from a running train. Very rightly so!
To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this notable judgment authored by a single Judge Bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessai of Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court wherein it is put forth that, “The appellant herein has challenged the judgment and award, dated 17/01/2017, whereby ther Railway Claims Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as “the Tribunal” for short) has dismissed the Claim Application No. OA(IIu)/NGP/2013/0340.”
To put things in perspective, it is then enunciated in para 2 that, “The appellant is the mother of Vikki Munnalal Chaube, who died in a train accident on 12/12/2012. It was the case of the appellant that on the relevant date, her son Vikki was travelling from Nagpur to Tumsar Road by Train No.12101 LTT – Howrah-Janeshwari Express. It is alleged that said Vikki fell down from a running train at Mundikota Railway Station. He was taken to KTS Hospital, where he was declared dead. The appellant filed an application under Section 23 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, for compensation on account of death of her son in “untoward incident”.”
On the contrary, it is then stated by the Bench in para 3 that, “The claim was contested by the respondent on the ground that no such “untoward incident” had occurred resulting in the death of the son of the appellant within the meaning of Section 123(c) read with Section 124A of the Railways Act. The respondent further claimed that the deceased was not a bona fide passenger.”
As it turned out, the Bench then points out in para 4 that, “The Tribunal framed the issues and upon considering the evidence on record held that the appellant is the dependent of the deceased within the meaning of Section 123(b) of the Railways Act. The Tribunal also recorded a finding that the death of deceased had occurred in an “untoward incident”. The Tribunal further observed that the deceased was having a journey Ticket No.R94100073 from Nagpur to Tumsar Road on 12/12/2012. The Tribunal, however, dismissed the claim mainly on the ground that the said ticket was not a valid journey ticket for Train No.12101 LTT Howrah-Janeshwari Express.”
As against what has been stated above, the Bench then points out in para 5 that, “Assailing the said judgment, learned Counsel for the appellant has contended that the Tribunal was required to consider, whether deceased Vikki had lost his life as a result of “untoward incident” and whether the Railway Administration had proved and established exception or exceptions available under Section 124A of the Railways Act. He contends that the Tribunal was not justified in dismissing the petition only because the deceased had boarded a wrong train. He has relied upon the decision of Union of India vs. Rina Devi (AIR 2018 SC 2362) and Union of India vs. Anuradha & another (2014 ACJ 856) to contend that the Railway Administration cannot be absolved of its liability, merely on a plea of negligence of victim as contributing factor.”
There can be no denying that there is a lot of merit in what the learned counsel for the appellant has contended. The petition should not have been dismissed by the Railway Claims Tribunal on the sole ground that the deceased had boarded a wrong train. The judgments cited above are latest and also relevant to hold the Railway Administration accountable which cannot be absolved of its liability as stated above.
Needless to say, it is then stated in para 6 that, “Per contra, learned Counsel for the respondent submits that the deceased had no valid ticket for travelling by Train No.12101 LTT Howrah-Janeshwari Express. He contends that the deceased cannot be considered to be a bona fide passenger and, hence, the Railway Administration is not liable to pay compensation to the appellant.”
Truth be told, after considering all the facts before it and perusing the records, it is then held in para 7 by the Bench that, “I have perused the records and considered the submissions advanced by learned Counsel for the respective parties. Before adverting to the facts of the case, it would be relevant to refer to the decision of Rina Devi (supra), wherein the Apex Court has observed that death 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 of Section 124A merely on the plea of negligence of the victim as a contributing factor.”
More significantly, the Bench then goes on to hold in para 8 that, “In the case of Anuradha (supra), learned Single Judge of this Court (Coram : A.P. Bhangale, J.) on similar facts, has held that the Railway trains are used as convenient and affordable means of conveyance by any commoner in our country. If a passenger unguided by railway security personnel, ticket checkers or in absence of the regular announcements mistakenly boards a wrong train halting on the platform, may on realizing his mistake fall off the train due to panicky situation or otherwise accidentally, the railway administration cannot feign ignorance about the untoward incident in such case in order to shirk away from its strict liability to compensate monetarily for the untoward fatal accidents.”
Finally and far most significantly, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Smt Anuja Prabhudessai then goes on to hold in para 9 that, “In the present case, the victim Vikki had admittedly purchased a train ticket for travel from Nagpur to Tumsar Road. It is in evidence that he had boarded a wrong train. He cannot be branded as an unauthorized passenger merely because he had mistakenly boarded a wrong train. The death of the said passenger was due to the injuries sustained in accidental fall from a running train. Accordingly, the death was an “untoward incident” and was not covered by proviso to Section 124-A of the Railways Act. The Tribunal was, therefore, not justified in rejecting the claim solely on the ground that the victim had boarded a wrong train. The appellant having discharged the initial burden of proving that Vikki was a bona fide passenger and that his death was an “untoward incident”, the respondent cannot be absolved of their liability of paying the compensation to the dependents of the deceased. For the reasons stated above, the impugned judgment cannot be sustained. Hence, the following order :
O R D E R
i. The appeal is allowed.
ii. The impugned judgment, dated 17/01/2017 in Claim Application No. OA(Ilu)/NGP/2013/0340 is quashed and set aside.
iii. The respondent-Union of India is directed to pay to the appellant a sum of Rs.8,00,000/-.
iv. The said amount shall be deposited in the account of the claimant-appellant after verifying the identity within a period of three months.
v. The appeal stands disposed of.
All said and done, the sum and substance of this commendable, cogent and convincing judgment delivered by Justice Smt Anuja Prabhudessai of Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court is that the Railway is certainly liable to pay compensation of Rs 8 lakh to one Munnilal Chaube whose son Vikki died due to the injuries sustained in accidental fall from a running train while he was travelling from Nagpur to Tumsar Road by Howrah-Janeshwari Express. Railway cannot exonerate itself from its liability on this score merely on the specious ground that he had mistakenly boarded a wrong train and as a corollary the Union of India had no option but to shell out Rs 8 lakh as compensation to the appellant. As we know, the appellant named Munnibai Chaube had filed an application under Section 23 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act for compensation on account of death of her son in “untoward incident”.
As per Section 123(c) of The Railway Act, 1989, “untoward incident” includes the accidental falling of any passenger from a train carrying passenger. So the appellant was well within her right to demand the compensation on the ground as specified above! There is nothing extraordinary about it!
It may be recollected that the Bombay High Court last year had similarly allowed an appeal against the order of the Railway Claims Tribunal, Nagpur and had directed Central Railways to pay Rs 8 lakh as compensation to the family of one Arjun Gawande who died while alighting from a train at Badnera station. Justice MG Giratkar of the Nagpur Bench had held that even though the deceased boarded the wrong train which did not have a stoppage at Badnera station the Tribunal’s finding that the deceased responsible for his own death was not sustainable. Same is the case here also as has been rightly ruled by Justice Smt Anuja Prabhudessai!