Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

Falling off a train: Claims rising, Railways Ministry smells a rat

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi | Posted: August 8, 2014 2:52 am | Updated: August 8, 2014 12:22 pm

In 2010-11, the Railways Ministry paid a whopping Rs 164 crore as compensation for claims related to “accidental falling” from trains. Since then, the average annual payout for such claims has been about  Rs 135 crore. In contrast, the corresponding amount in 1994-95 was just Rs 26 lakh.

Indicating that many such claims are either fabricated or the accidents occur because of negligence and carelessness by the passengers themselves, the ministry on Thursday moved an amendment to the Railway Act to protect itself from “frivolous” claims.

“Loss to the exchequer could be avoided by ensuring that Railways is not made liable to pay compensation in accidents caused due to carelessness and negligence on part of travelling passengers,” says the amendment note.

The amendment Bill, listed for discussion in Parliament on Friday, adds a new Section 124 (B) to the Railway Act, 1989, to empower the Railways to deny compensation claims if it finds that the victim fell from the train due to his own fault. The ministry has also sought changes to make the zonal railways, in whose jurisdiction such accidents occur, a party to the claims case, so that the authenticity of the cases can be ascertained.

Following an internal assessment, the Railways found that 96-98 per cent of “untoward incidents” that reach the claims tribunals were “accidental fallings”. The number rose from just 136 in 1995 to 8,157 in 2011. In the last three years, it ranged between 7,000-9,000 annually, according to official data accessed by The Indian Express.

The compensation amount for such claims ranges from Rs 32,000 to a maximum of Rs 4 lakh per victim. During its investigations, the ministry found that in many cases, the bodies found next to the railway tracks were brought from somewhere else, just for the purpose of filing compensation claims. Under the existing law, the Railways does not have any instrument to protect itself from such rackets.

Hinting at an organised racket, the amendment note says, “The options made available for filing of claims are misused and claims against different Railways are filed for the same loss or injury, resulting in filing of duplicate and false claims by claimants, causing loss to the exchequer.”

A major loophole in the existing law is that victims (or surviving relatives) can register a claims case at the place from where the ticket was purchased as well as the passenger’s final destination. This has led to duplication of claims for the same accident.

In 2004, the Railway Claims Tribunal in Jaipur sniffed a scam, pointing out that most of the claims in its jurisdiction were traced to Bhanpura, Madhya Pradesh, and the claimants lived within a few kilometres of each other. It also said the same notary was being used to file the case papers in most of the cases.

Former Railways Minister Lalu Prasad had agreed to move an amendment, but he was soon replaced by Mamata Banerjee, who called the amendment “anti-poor”. While all the Railways Ministers after her saw the file, it is only now that the matter has been brought to Parliament.

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